Students on the UK’s most popular degree course abroad are struggling to have their qualification recognised in some countries, including China, Australia and South Africa, a new study has found.
Around 285,000 students are currently registered on the BSc in Applied Accounting offered via distance learning at Oxford Brookes University - almost half of the nearly 571,000 students studying for a UK degree overseas, according to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The course is run in partnership with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, with students automatically enrolled with Oxford Brookes when signing up for Acca’s professional qualification.
Students must pass nine “fundamentals” papers and a self-assessed professional ethics module to receive the Acca qualification, but must produce in addition a 6,500-word research project to receive the BSc qualification.
However, a report by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which features the course as a case study, highlights the difficulties faced by thousands of students whose home countries do not recognise overseas accountancy qualifications or distance-learning degrees in general.
The study, titled Audit of Overseas Provision, China, 2012, unveiled at the QAA’s annual conference in Edinburgh on 12 March, says the issue of non-recognition “is a particular concern in China, which does not recognise overseas degrees delivered by distance learning”.
The lack of recognition is driving high dropout rates, as Chinese students often do not bother to complete the research element of the course that leads to the honours degree, the report says. Of the 19,500 Chinese students currently registered on the course, 5,500 have completed the nine fundamentals papers but only 150 students a year are doing the extra work required for the degree.
“Recognition of the Oxford Brookes degree by the Chinese government is seen as key to increasing the progression rate,” the report states.
It also notes that professional accountancy bodies in Australia and South Africa do not recognise accounting degrees from other countries as counting towards their own national accountancy qualifications.
Jane Towers-Clark, programme lead for the Oxford Brookes course, said that UK degrees were accepted in most countries and added that whenever possible students were briefed about the recognition status of the accounting BSc in their home nation or advised to check its status themselves before signing up.
“The university works proactively to seek recognition for the programme in those countries where it currently doesn’t have such government or ministry recognition,” she said.
The study notes that from the moment students complete all nine Acca papers, they then have up to 10 years to complete their extended project - during which time they remain registered on the course.
This might be seen as artificially inflating the total number thought to be studying UK degrees abroad - a figure often quoted by the universities and science minister David Willetts, who is keen to expand the UK’s transnational education sector in the face of visa restrictions for UK- based international students.
The QAA, which produced three other case studies for the audit, is expected to publish a comprehensive report on the standard of UK overseas provision in China next month.