The consequences of lengthening the academic year
On July 9, 2004, the National Agency for Higher Education was asked by the government to investigate the possibilities and consequences of introducing a longer academic year. The intention was to lengthen the academic year and extend the period of study for students from the current average of 40 weeks to 50 weeks per year, mainly by using the summer vacation period for additional study. The aim of introducing study programmes of this kind was to enable students to move on to paid employment more rapidly and to alleviate problems they may have in supporting themselves, particularly during the summer months.
The study programme envisaged has been analysed from an international perspective, i.e. what kind of international reception it would receive from a recognition point of view and how it fits in with the reform of higher education given the implementation of the Bologna process in Sweden. Certain accreditation problems can be foreseen.
The report is based on interviews in which hypothetical models of how an extended academic year could be organised at some higher education institutions have been the starting point. In addition a case study has been carried out at Umeå University in which a number of students have answered questions about their interest, for instance, in a prolonged academic year. Of these students, 40 per cent were positive. The results of this questionnaire provided the basis for an economic analysis of the revenues and costs involved in extending the period of study in three programmes at Umeå - in economics (at master´s level), nursing and the technological computing option in the master´s programme in engineering.
This analysis suggests that there may be economic advantages to extending the period of study, subject to certain assumptions about the size of the student group, the credit points attained and the labour market in the future. On the other hand, a sensitivity analysis identifies some circumstances that could result in the opposite effect.
It is important for quality issues to be taken into account if the academic year is to be prolonged. If increased teaching for longer periods steals time from research and if accelerated studies reduce the scope for students to reflect and digest, there are risks that quality will decline.
Finally the National Agency for Higher Education outlines a few models on which prolongation of the academic year could be based. One could involve arranging a prolonged academic year with short programmes for large student populations. The Agency considers that a prolonged academic year could be arranged in collaboration by a number of higher education institutions. One way of cooperating could be to offer the courses that need to be doubled as distance courses. The National Agency is in favour of conducting trials to test the concept of prolonging the academic year.