Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Call for three-year uni courses

By Seonag MacKinnon
Education correspondent, BBC Scotland

Students at graduation ceremony

Scotland's universities should consider coming into line with English universities in making a three-year degree the norm.

That's the call from Alastair Hunter president-elect of the lecturers' union UCU (University and College Union).

He says condensing the four-year honours degree course into a three-year course, would help students from poorer backgrounds take postgraduate degrees - qualifications which can give them an edge in the workplace as first degrees are more common now.

Dr Hunter, who is based at Glasgow University, admitted he is promoting a controversial proposal as the four-year honours degree is one of the hallmarks of the Scottish education system.

"It is a hot potato," he said. "It would be a radical step in Scottish education but it is perfectly normal elsewhere in the UK."

I'm not convinced it takes more than a term or a semester for Scottish students to catch up with students who have A levels
Alastair Hunter

He stressed that he is speaking in a personal capacity and not putting forward an official policy of the UCU.

Outlining his case, he said: "Disadvantaged students usually can't afford to take a second degree as there's student support for very few postgraduate qualifications.

"A three-year degree would perhaps help them, as the funding body could then make more resources available for postgraduate qualifications."

Dr Hunter added that it was unlikely Scottish students would be disadvantaged by a shorter Honours course.

"I'm not convinced it takes more than a term or a semester for Scottish students to catch up with students who have A levels," he said.

'Gold standard'

Students at Scottish universities can complete Ordinary degrees in three years but four year Honours degrees are more common.

A spokeswoman for the umbrella body Universities Scotland rejected Dr Hunter's proposal.

She said: "The cost to the reputation of Scottish education would be more than any financial saving we would make.

"The four-year degree is the gold standard in education. England is the exception in having a three-year degree. A lot of countries in Europe keep the four-year system. "

She added that the present system allows students who come to university at the end of fifth year at school, two years in which to acquire a good educational grounding at university before having to decide the subjects in which they wish to specialise.

And she said the system is flexible enough to allow students with A levels the option, in some subjects at some Scottish universities, of going directly into second year to cut their study time to three years.

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