Changing courses is no problem... for the Scots (2)

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

A new "national language" emerged in Scotland last December to embrace assessed learning, covering all mainstream qualifications from basic education to postgraduate degrees.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is leading the UK and is at the forefront of European and international developments. It has been drawn up by a partnership of national bodies: the Scottish Executive, the Quality Assurance Agency in Scotland, Universities Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The first building block was the Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer scheme (Scotcat), which established a decade ago a common system of credit points and levels. The SCQF sets out 12 levels in a unified framework covering university qualifications, SQA national qualifications, higher national qualifications and Scottish vocational qualifications.

Level seven, for example, covers advanced highers, taken by the most able pupils, higher national certificates and certificates in higher education, the equivalent of a year's full-time higher education.

Pupils with advanced highers can seek direct entry to the second year of degree courses. But the SCQF stresses that it is descriptive rather than regulatory. It does not make one qualification equivalent to another.

The framework can be used to help students move between faculties or departments, or between institutions, turning general credit into specific credit. But this does not guarantee a direct transfer. For example, a student who has completed the first year of a medical degree at one university and wants to transfer to a science course at another will have gained 120 general Scotcat points at level seven. However, the second university might grant only 100 specific credits towards the new course, and the student would have to make up the credit points.

Higher education institutions have been accused of dragging their feet in recognising qualifications from colleges in particular. This is likely to be debated at a conference in December focusing on how the SCQF is being implemented.

The new framework effectively obliges institutions to explain why they do not recognise credit gained by a student. But universities will argue that direct credit transfer is not always possible because of the diversity of programmes. The same subject may be taught with a different emphasis.

David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, said: "It's a question of achieving the right balance between facilitating movement between programmes and preserving a diversity valuable in its own right."

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