Students in England are being promised the option of “accelerated” two-year degree courses, saving 20% on tuition fees compared with a three-year course.
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has confirmed plans for universities to be able to charge higher fees for shorter, more intensive courses.
It would mean paying about £5,500 less than for a three-year course – which would mean about £11,000 per year.
But raising annual fees above £9,250 would require Parliamentary approval.
The government wants to encourage more flexible ways of studying – in particular as a way of reversing the decline in the numbers of mature students taking degrees.
Condensing a full degree into two years is seen as being more appealing to people who are in work or with family commitments.
A fast-track degree, with two 45-week years of teaching, would allow students to borrow less on fees and to save on a year’s living costs and accommodation.
Universities would have the incentive of being able to charge higher annual fees to cover extra teaching costs.
It would also be cheaper for the government, which would have lower tuition fee loans to fund.
The proposals for this scheme were put forward by the government last year – but making it happen will depend on Parliament lifting the fee cap above £9,250.
It would have to be debated and backed by Parliament – but the Department for Education says if it got approval, such courses could operate from next year.
Mr Gyimah said accelerated degrees would help improve access for “mature students and those who commute, who were previously locked out of higher education”.
He said there were “undeniable financial, academic and personal benefits” and it would also encourage universities to “offer dynamic choices that serve students’ needs”.
However, the head of one of the first universities to offer two-year degrees over 40 years ago has warned that many universities will find it difficult to adapt.
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said: “Two-year degrees are a more efficient and cost-effective method for students to get on with their careers and their lives.”
But he said: “Universities offering three-year degrees will find it difficult to restructure.
“We would like the universities minister to engage in discussions with us in order to assist independent providers who offer two-year degrees.”