Changing courses is no problem... for the Scots (1)

October 18, 2002

Students have had their faith sorely tested as A levels come under scrutiny and as many in higher education struggle to switch courses. The THES reports

Students seeking to transfer between courses at English universities and colleges may find that they have wasted a year taking courses that are not recognised by their new institution.

There is no national credit accumulation and transfer system in England, so students must negotiate individual arrangements.

In some cases, students could be allowed to progress to the second year of a course at a new institution; in others, they will be asked to retake the first year. It all depends on the similarity of the curricula and whether one university will recognise the teaching of another university to be of equal quality.

But English universities are working towards an arrangement that would make more transparent the process of credit accumulation and transfer.

England has two credit bodies: the Northern Universities Consortium for Credit Accumulation and Transfer; and the Southern England Consortium for Credit Accumulation and Transfer.

Together with the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales and the Northern Ireland Credit and Transfer System, they are working to deliver a single framework to the Department for Education and Skills. They hope to include further education later.

The framework - which aims to map the volume and the level of learning - builds on the qualifications framework published by the Quality Assurance Agency in January 2001. That scheme has five levels: certificate, intermediate (covering ordinary degrees, foundation degrees and diplomas), honours, masters and doctoral.

A similar framework exists in Scotland and the two share many core purposes and features. In particular, they are aligned at the honours degree, and the qualification descriptors for postgraduate awards are identical.

But the QAA framework was greeted with horror by universities and colleges when it was published, and attempts to convert it into a credit framework are likely to be met with resistance.

An alternative approach that works for students seeking to swap courses within an institution is modularisation.

The undergraduate programme at the University of the West of England, for example, is completely modularised so that students can, within reason, pick and chose which parts they wish to follow.

Modularisation also allows students to switch between full-time and part-time study.

Rod Coleman, director of the modular scheme, said: "In order for credit to be transferred, the learning outcomes of institution X must be set against the learning outcomes of institution Y. Otherwise, you find students haven't done what they should have done to underpin what comes next. This is a particular problem in engineering and maths.

"Our acceptance of a framework enables students to match what they have done with what they would have done in another institution.

"Transfer and giving exemptions on the basis of what has been studied in the previous institution is far easier now."

Mature student Sheila Donovan did a diploma in health and social welfare at the Open University before transferring to the University of Hertfordshire to do a part-time degree in healthcare.

She said: "The only reason I did the degree at Hertfordshire was because I could fast-track. But getting accreditation for prior learning was more difficult than doing the modules."

It was a lesson learnt for her husband, Joe, who later completed the first year of a part-time history degree at what was then the University of North London before transferring to Birkbeck College, London, to do politics, philosophy and history.

He said: "I didn't seek accreditation. They would have been happy to consider it but it was a lot of hassle."

In 1997, the year for whichthe most recent data are available, 3 per cent of students at an English university or college transferred to another institution at the end of their first-year full-time first degree. In Scotland, the figure was 2 per cent.

Institutions from which students transfer

City University 7%

Umist 6%

Thames Valley 6%

Westminster 6%

Hertfordshire University 5%

Lndn Met, North campus 5%

Queen Mary, London 5%

Southampton 5%

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