Options under the new Open University finance regime

With the upcoming change to OU financing in England, there are debates going on in pretty much every OU forum about the implications these days.

Most of that debate centres around the Transitional Arrangement (TA) period from 2012 through to 2017 that applies to existing students in England (the changes don’t apply to OU students elsewhere in the UK nor to those overseas nor to postgraduate students).

The basic idea is that existing students will continue to pay the current fees up until 2017. However, the OU students are a very diverse bunch and there are loads of exceptions to the norm.

What happens if you’re studying towards two or more degrees at once? In other universities that would be very unusual but in the OU it’s quite common. Thus, many physics students will be working towards a maths degree, many biology students towards a chemistry degree, etc. At present, the ruling seems to be that you will only be able to study towards one degree at a time but in a number of cases that will mean that students would need to switch degrees during the year. In my own case for example, whilst I am currently only doing life sciences courses, in October I will be doing a chemistry course that runs to June and starting a psychology course in February. Thus from February to June I will be studying for both chemistry and psychology degrees and indeed on my current plans I will be doing one course from each degree right through to 2016 or 2017.

What happens if you graduate in 2012 and want to do a second degree? No problem apparently, so long as you begin the second degree prior to August 2012 and even then a single 10 point course in the second degree is enough to qualify you for the transitional arrangements. If you’re intending to start uni in 2013 or 2014, you could take advantage of this by enrolling in a 10 point course in early 2012, with a minimum of one 10 point course per year until you start your main course.

Since you can finish a degree in 2012 and then carry on, it’s bringing the issue of credit transfer to the fore for those who have an existing degree from elsewhere. Using that, a considerable number of people can graduate a year or two earlier than they were planning on and  I’ll be looking into that in more detail myself reasonably soon with a view to possibly completing a chemistry degree in 2014 alongside the biology one as it would appear that doing one course a year in advance of my current plans would make that possible. What it also means is sitting down and planning in some detail the course options between now and 2017 as it’s gotten very complicated.

One thing that it will also do is to make the postgraduate degrees more attractive. Financing for them is also being reviewed but it’s expected that the course fees won’t increase as much so it’s quite likely that they will be cheaper to do under the new arrangements than the undergraduate degrees will be. That doesn’t affect me directly as my plan had me starting the masters sometime between 2014 and 2017 anyway but it has meant that I’ve started looking at options for it much earlier than I would ordinarily have done.

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