Credit where credit is due

April 26, 1996

A bold push into the sometimes bewildering world of credit accumulation and transfer has paid off for Welsh higher education institutions.

Many thought they would never get it off the ground, but last month vice chancellors, academics and civil servants saw the launch of the Welsh Higher Education Credit Framework.

The new Welsh credit system, which had development support from the Welsh Office, the Department for Education and Employment, the Welsh funding councils and institutions, is intended to create a more flexible and student-centred higher education sector.

The framework aims to allot credit for achievement in terms of "notional hours" of study - the amount of teaching and learning time taken by a student at a particular level of work. Credits are awarded at three levels for undergraduate study and at an additional level for postgraduate masters.

Under the system devised by the Wales Access Unit, one credit is equal to ten notional hours of study and an academic year made up of 1,200 hours of teaching and learning. This does not match up with a framework already up and running in Welsh FE, which uses a base of 30 notional hours equalling one credit.

But the higher education framework's creators are not discouraged, insisting it will be easy to take the necessary mathematical step from one system to the other.

Alan Lloyd, who chairs the Higher Education Credit Initiative Wales, said the project was ambitious and he was relieved that institutions had supported it through its interim report stage last year.

"The whole tricky question of the definition of a unit of credit is something which could have destroyed the framework from the very beginning," he said.

Readers of the new credit framework handbook must pick their way through the differences between "impositional credit" and "compositional credit" and get to grips with the meaning of "level descriptors". But the project's supporters, which include most Welsh higher education heads, are enthusiastic about the potential of the framework to unlock higher education from its increasingly outdated top-down approach to provision.

Adrian Webb, vice chancellor of the University of Glamorgan, said the system put more power over the design of learning programmes in the hands of the student.

"You may say we have had a credit accumulation and transfer system, and with disappointing results. But this system does empower the student, and it doesn't depend on arrangements being set up between institutions," he said.

Quality chiefs are also enthusiastic about the framework's potential to help address questions on academic standards being tackled by the Higher Education Quality Council. In a response to proposals for the framework, the HEQC said the system was "likely to promote debate on the nature of learning in a subject and on the generic characteristics of learning which span subjects".

Now the Welsh funding councils are turning to the task of how to link funding to the credit framework. John Andrews, the funding councils' chief executive, said: "For us this is a stepping stone towards greater diversity. It will be important for a funding methodology to underpin future changes in the system rather than to make them more difficult."

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