Should UK Universities Be Friendlier To Credit Transfers?

The principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford is calling for UK schools to follow the US university admission systems that combat ‘snobbery’ by accepting credits from less-prestigious institutions. According to a leading educator, stopping students from poorer backgrounds from gaining degrees using credits accumulated at other institutions constitutes such snobbery. Sir David Watson, principal of [...]

The principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford is calling for UK schools to follow the US university admission systems that combat ‘snobbery’ by accepting credits from less-prestigious institutions.

According to a leading educator, stopping students from poorer backgrounds from gaining degrees using credits accumulated at other institutions constitutes such snobbery. Sir David Watson, principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford, says the UK should adopt the “much messier system” of university admissions used in the US in calling for a national structure that enables students to transfer credits between different courses and universities.

Watson says that a third of all students in the US transfer institutions before graduating, taking their credits with them to their new university according to a report he wrote for the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Additionally, Sir David says that almost all students in UK universities are enrolled via the so-called “royal route”, in which they must enter the first year of an undergraduate course regardless of their prior experience of higher education, generally holding a number of strong post-16 qualifications.

Watson, who is a professor of higher education at Oxford, also warns that UK universities positioned higher up the “institutional reputation ladder” are more reluctant to recognize learning elsewhere, part of a damaging “institutional protectionism”.

According to Jack Grove of Times Higher Education, a report published on November 22 says that although there is no data to clarify how many used prior credits towards students’ degrees, about 43,000 of them entered the first year of a full-time undergraduate course in the UK in 2011-12 having already studied for a higher education qualification.

However, the sector’s use of credit transfer was “feeble” and that “conservatism, snobbery and lack of imagination” prevented its wider use, according to Sir David.

“The lack of an effective credit framework inhibits the UK’s progress towards a genuinely lifelong learning society, a goal increasingly recognized as important for social, cultural and economic reasons,” he says.

The lack of a thriving credit transfer system, which operates successfully in many parts of Europe, was “arguably the most serious single piece of unfinished business in UK higher education”, he adds.

A member of the Dearing report committee, which called for credit transfer in 1997, Sir David, suggests that changing course curricula to include credit transfer poses several risks and problems, but these could be overcome. In addition, he explains that students might enroll in a less popular course to gain access to a different course later on, known as the “Trojan horse” ploy. Nonetheless, universities will not be able to recruit large numbers of adults who are unwilling to commit themselves to a long stretch of full-time education without an effective credit transfer framework.

The adoption of this scheme “will mean taking widening participation seriously rather than just pretending that the traditional ‘royal route’ will suddenly open up for new types of student”, Sir David advises.

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