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YES to 2 year degrees

Oxford School of Drama which remains defiantly independent of degrees but is rated one of the world’s top five drama schools

At last. The government has announced that universities and other higher education institutions must offer two year year degrees. The end of the three year stranglehold is in sight.

Now that fees are close to £10k per year on top of which the student has to keep him or herself, it is utterly scandalous that the three year closed shop has lasted so long. It’s a long ignored example of restrictive practice.

Any good course is intensive.  Many three year courses are anything but. Three years of fewer than five hours a week of tuition, the occasional essay and hours and hours to spend in bars is completely bonkers. Yet this is how many (most?) university courses operate. Of course nearly every course could be telescoped into two years if students were provided with three proper 14 week terms each year (42 weeks with ten weeks holiday) and given  a much more structured  programme while they were in session.

And yes, it can be done for vocational drama training just as readily as for any other course. Students do not need four months “off” in the summer. Yes, they might need to earn  a bit and might want to take a show to Edinburgh but ten weeks’ “leave” a year – still far more than most people get in the real world of grown up work – allows for both.

Do the sums. Unlike many other students, drama trainees need all day practical tuition – a minimum of thirty hours per week. As things stand most work short terms (including half terms) and get around 700 hours per year. That adds up – very crudely – to, say, 2,100 hours over three years.

Can you teach, half of that, 1,050 hours a year effectively in order to fit it into two years? I reckon so. You’d need to do about 320 hours each term and that’s easily doable if you stick at it for ten weeks.

The student might get less time to earn money but he or she pays one year less in subsistence and is industry ready, and able to start paid work, a year earlier. Fees ought to be a bit less too. These are huge advantages.

Of course it means staff will have to work harder but I’m not losing any sleep about that.

What does concern me – and it must be watched very carefully – is that some schools and other providers will simply offer a second rate,  two thirds, watered down two year degree course rather than giving two year degree students everything which they would get on a three year course. It needs tight timetabling and a willingness to think openly and forget the scandalous rules which have prevailed for far too long.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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