National ‘credit banks’ seen as solution for flexible learning

United Nations report examines how academic credits can be validated more easily

October 21, 2022
Online learning
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A nationalised system for collecting university credits would allow students greater choice and flexibility, a new book argues.

The researchers also call for the reputation of online learning programmes to be viewed as comparable to regular academic courses taught in person.

The book – published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-Unesco) – proposes a range of policy options for flexible learning pathways.

It urges countries around the world to implement FLPs to make higher education more accessible, and highlights a growing global trend of developing national credit bank systems.

Researchers believe this would allow credits to be validated and stored more easily and facilitate re-entry into higher education.

“Through credit banks students can accumulate, securely store their learning experiences, transfer credits to another institution or apply for a degree based on cumulated credits,” Michaela Martin, main author of the book and an assistant director at IIEP-Unesco, told Times Higher Education.

She said a nationalised system could store microcredentials – proof of short learning experiences – offered by universities, and allow for them to be assessed against transparent standards.

“Microcredentials have the potential to widen participation as they do not require a full-time commitment to HE over years, but whether they will be able to overcome the socio-cultural barriers to participation in higher education remains an open question,” Ms Martin said.

But she added that initial research on them shows that they are mainly followed by learners who have already academic degrees.

National credit banks already exist in some countries, such as South Korea and China, and are being developed in others – including a National Academic Credit Bank in India.

Meanwhile, there is currently discussion on a European-African initiative aimed at a pan-African higher education credit system.

The book argues that a credit bank could support stackable learning systems, and guarantee that the same standards to verify credits are used in both technical and vocational education and training and academic institutions.

IIP-Unesco also wants to improve the perception of open and distance learning programmes as being on a par with the more traditional face-to-face academic ones.

It argues that distance learning became the main mode of delivery for education during the coronavirus pandemic, providing millions of learners worldwide with greater choice in their learning – but recognition remains a problem.

Authors noted the examples of India, where distance learning programmes are perceived to be of poor quality, and in the UK, where a “lack of national guidance” means the implementation of online courses varies greatly.

Ms Martin said different elements of flexible learning pathways are important in every country, with online learning and Massive open online courses a reality everywhere – although they are constrained by infrastructure and internet access.

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