In an age of changing technological tools, an economic recession and intense competition in the job market, the mainstream higher education system is bound to see change in the near future, and one Scottish university principal says the change can and should be made now.

Scottish university principal James Fraser recently said he thinks it is most reasonable to expect Scottish college students to spend a maximum of three full-time years earning their degree in higher education.

The forward-thinker, a principal of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), said he reasons that four-year university degrees cost taxpayers too much money and create copious amounts of debt for students. So the logical solution is to shorten the amount of time students spend earning their degree.

Fraser wants to shorten the process gradually — his current goal is to change the average university time from four to three years, with capable high school students getting one year of university education under their belt before graduating from high school.

The process is similar to the American system of granting high school students AP credit, but Fraser envisions this entire system taking place in independent online communities rather than in high school campus classrooms.

Such a system will be lower in cost and more efficient for high school students, who can use the whole of their credit hours toward earning their high school diploma and bachelor’s degree simultaneously.

And though some programs like law and medicine will most likely continue in their current university time requirement, Fraser said most other degrees can easily be earned in a shorter amount of time, with the help of online learning.

“Learning online is just as effective as any other type of learning, where it is appropriately supported,” Fraser said in a Scottish news article.

Fraser’s system is purely in the planning stages and will be tested with a series of drastic pilot classes. The pilots will involve sixth year students from secondary schools across the Highlands and Islands who are willing to begin studying higher education courses online. School staff members and university tutors will collaborate to offer supervision and input for students involved in the study.

Other educators have their doubts about Fraser’s plan and say the pilot classes must be very closely monitored.

Director of Universities Scotland Alastair Sim, for example, said the traditional four-year university plan already allows for a great deal of flexibility in entry and graduation, and replacing the model with a three-year plan seems much too drastic and rigid.

Still, Sim said he is willing to analyze the relationship between school, college and universities, and explore how the levels of education can more seamlessly integrate. He said he recognizes the pilot programs at UHI will help examine the possibilities within the realm of future education models in Scotland.

Liam Burns, president of NUS Scotland, is in strong support of the pilot program, saying the four-year Scottish degree certainly has room to become more flexible and better suited for students.

Burns said the proposed model has the ability to reduce overlap between college and secondary schools, save money and also reduce unfairness in this sector of education, since four-year universities have increasingly been attainable for only the wealthy students in Scottland.

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