A government proposal may make it easier to switch universities, by changing the way in which credits are transferred between universities.
According to Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, allowing students to transfer credits without ‘starting from scratch’ is important for student choice and flexible learning. In an address to the Universities UK members’ conference at the end of February, Johnson said: “Credit transfer can provide flexibility for the balance of work, life and study, and can offer new opportunities for part-time and mature learners.”
Credit transfers would allow students to top-up from one qualification to another (such as from vocational qualifications to an undergraduate degree), gain recognition when return to education for prior learning or life and work experience, or switch between programmes or institutions.
Transfers between institutions in the UK are normally only permitted for certain courses, and usually only at the end of an academic year. Moreover, despite previous government efforts to promote credit transfer, many UK students are unaware of even the limited opportunities to transfer that are available, and few take up the opportunity.
According to the government’s own data, in 2012/13 just over 2 per cent of students (6,500 learners) transferred institution during the first year, while a further 2,500 transferred to another institution after taking a year out.
Under the new proposal the government hopes to make credit transfer easier and better understood. Students would be allowed to switch providers during the course of an academic year, taking their completed credits to their new provider – in effect building their own programmes of learning.
Proponents of credit transfer argue that credit transfer supports social mobility and puts the focus back on students.
Writing about the amendments to the Higher Education Bill in a piece for The Times, Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “In a whole host of areas, not least in the new proposals on accelerated degrees and credit transfer, they take meaningful action to support social mobility, focus on students and ensure that anyone with the capability to do so can truly benefit from a university education.”
However some education experts are concerned that the new proposals may compromise academic quality and throw up new challenges for students if not carefully managed. Critics point to difficulties in reconciling differences between degree courses and the fact that modules in some disciplines are structured to build on learning from previous levels.
There may also be challenges for students studying for qualifications accredited by statutory or regulatory bodies such as the General Medical Council or National Union of Journalists to ensure that “mix and match” degrees still satisfy the requirements of such bodies.
Writing in the Guardian, Jon Scott, pro vice-chancellor of Leicester University, said: “Degree programmes are carefully designed and are tested through approval/validation processes to check they meet the academic standards of the framework for higher education qualifications. Each programme will have intended learning outcomes, which are set out in the programme specification.
“The module framework for the programme is designed, with core and option modules, to ensure that graduates meet those outcomes. This is important in the assurance of academic standards, but also for prospective employers to see what the graduate has achieved. With complete flexibility and perhaps no core content, it becomes very difficult to demonstrate the acquisition of attributes and assure academic quality.”
The Higher Education and Research Bill is currently under discussion in the House of Lords.