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A Documentary Study for Arrangements for Credit Accumulation and Transfer in Higher Education



Higher or Third Level Education in Ireland consists of four types of institution: Universities, Institutes of Technology, Teacher Training Colleges and Non-State Aided Private Colleges.

In recent years, in response to the economic demands of society for a more competent and adaptive work-force, Irish Universities and colleges have introduced more flexible higher education systems.

In the early 1990s, the Accumulation of Credits and Certificate of Subjects Scheme (ACCS) had been introduced to facilitate credit accumulation for students on part-time courses. The credit system chosen was the ECTS 60 credit year. The system provided for the enrollment of students on modules as opposed to entire courses.

In 1994 the Irish Higher Education Authority (see http://www.hea.ie) circulated a discussion document entitled 'Towards a Policy on Modularisation in Irish Universities', which outlined the benefits of modularisation. The Report suggested that modularisation and semesterisation should go hand in hand and that module and semester duration should be nationally agreed as being of 15 and 17 weeks and a 60 credit year/30 credit semester should be adopted in line with the ECTS scheme. To date, University of Limerick and Dublin City University are fully semesterised. National University of Ireland Galway and National University of Ireland Dublin are partly semesterised.

In 1998/99, University College Cork began the process of reorganising its undergraduate programmes, changing from a unitised system of teaching to a modularised one, starting with first years. The remaining years of undergraduate programmes have been modularised for 1999/2000. The University's 'Book of Modules' http://www.ucc.ie/ academic/modules describes the system in these terms:

    'A module represents a self-contained fraction of a student's workload for the year and carries a unique examination/assessment mark. The size of a module is indicated by its credit weighting. Under modularisation, each year of a degree programme is worth 60 credits. This is based on the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), which provides common procedures to guarantee academic recognition of studies at institutions offering ECTS-based programmes. Credits are the value allocated to modules to describe the student workload required to complete them. The number of credits allocated to each module will vary depending on the fraction of programme workload it accounts for. An undergraduate module may equal 5, 10, 15 or 20 credits.'

As in the United Kingdom, examples of credit transfer between institutions in the Irish national system at the same level are rare. Modularisation provides flexibility of study within the individual institutions and offers opportunities to students to pursue part of their studies abroad and to gain credit for it which will be recognised by their home institution. The Irish system is another example of one which has been moved to adopt a credit-based system because of the advantages accruing to

its students from being able to gain access to a wider range of educational opportunities than can be provided by a single national system in a small country.


Prior to 1977, Sweden had a heterogeneous structure of higher education which consisted of a large number of both public and private institutions offering academic and professional qualifications. Since 1977 Sweden has had an integrated unitary system of tertiary level education (hogskolan). As a result of the 1977 reforms, the universities and professional schools incorporated other types of post-secondary programmes (eg teacher education). Outside university towns, academic programmes were integrated into teachers' colleges, which then formed 'academic colleges'. Sweden now has eleven universities, including Lulea University of Technology and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. In addition there are a further 38 institutions of higher education (including colleges of art, colleges of health sciences and educational centres with special examination and degree-awarding rights). All the universities and most of the institutions of higher education are run by the state. The main differentiating factor between the institutions is the amount of research carried out there. A discussion of the research/teaching divide in Swedish Higher Education is at http://www.sverigturism.se/smorgasbord/ smorgasbord/society/education/overview.html.

During the 1990s, higher education underwent a major expansion. There are now nearly 250,000 students in full-time higher education. Between 1990 and 1995 the number of new students increased by almost 42% (source Swedish Higher Education Authority [http://hsv.se/english/ higher/system.html])

Within the Swedish system, degree level study encompasses both profession-oriented studies such as law, medicine, teacher-training and journalism, and more general programmes. Students may choose a programme of study from those available or combine different courses into a customised degree programme. Programmes may be of varying lengths, between two and five and a half years and contain a stipulated number of courses. Each course is a coherent whole which may take from one to ten weeks to complete. Each degree programme and the length of the various courses is standardised in terms of a points system in which one credit point corresponds to one week of full-time studies, including classes, individual work and contact hours. A term is normally twenty weeks long, and thus a term of full-time studies is worth 20 credit points. Courses are generally worth between 5 and 20 credit points. To be awarded a degree, a student must complete at least 120 credits.

Privileged access to a reserved quota of places in hogskolan was provided for in the 1977 reforms. Students aged 25 or more with 4 years of work experience were exempt from the normal high school entry requirements. This has led to a high proportion of part-time adult learners in the Swedish system, whose progress is facilitated by the availability of a credit-based progression system.

Sweden's higher education system is cited in the 1999 report of the UK National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (NCIHE) the 'Dearing Report'(http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ educol/ncihe/r11_075.html) as an example of a system which uses a national credit-based system to allow students more choice. The credit system was a feature introduced in the 1977 reforms. The 1993 reforms increased student choice by establishing general degrees, which provided students with the option of creating their own multi-disciplinary programme rather than undertaking specialised study in a single discipline area.

As a small country (pop. circa 8 million) with a very sophisticated export-based economy, Sweden pursues international cooperation in Higher Education, both with its Nordic neighbours in NORDPLUS (http://siu.no/vev.nsf/info/NordplusEn-9ED26), (see also below) and through the various schemes operated by the EU such as ERASMUS and ECTS. One Swedish credit point equals 1.5 ECTS points. The flow was mainly one-way in the first instance however, as while Swedish students demonstrate great proficiency in English, very few foreign students are sufficiently fluent in Swedish to cope with the demands of a university degree programme. However, as part of the drive towards internationalisation, some universities, such as the University of Goteborg, have introduced credit-bearing courses taught in English to satisfy the needs of international students. The credit-based Swedish system also permits students to study readily in the USA, which is historically Sweden's major economic partner.


The objective of the Nordic Programme for Mobility of University Students and Teachers - NORDPLUS programme - launched in 1988, is to advance a positive interrelationship between the universities and institutions of higher education in the Nordic countries, creating a distinctive sense of common ground. It was conceived as a counterbalance to the ERASMUS programme of the EU, as well as to prepare for future Nordic participation in such European programmes. One of its specific goals is to substantially increase the number of university students carrying out an integrated and fully recognised period of study in another Nordic country. When a review of the programme was carried out in 1992, one of the main criticisms concerned lack of 'recognition of the time spent abroad as counting towards the final degree or towards any intermediary form of credit units'. Too often the mutual recognition of courses and examinations has not been established by the subject group 'framework agreements'. This contrasts with the centrality accorded to the exchange of 'Information Packages', and the conclusion of 'Learning Agreements', by each pair of institutions taking part in exchanges under the ECTS scheme (q.v.).

The Russian Federation

The main source of information on the current state of Higher Education in the Russian Federation is derived from the report of the OECD Review of National Policies for Education (1998).

    'the ongoing transition of the Russian federation from a command economy towards a pluralistic democracy and a market economy has been marked by economic, social and political changes of extraordinary breadth and depth. The talents, skills and knowledge base of the Russian population are crucial to this process; hence, the ambitious scale and urgency of the reforms being advanced for education.'

In the Soviet model of higher education, quotas for each university specialism were defined in successive five year plans according to the perceived needs of the economy for experts in different fields. The system was not credit-based. In order to graduate students were required to complete a defined number of courses within a set time-frame and pass all the examinations. Since the overthrow of communism, there has been a proliferation of private HE providers. Post-secondary education is divided into three stages on the US model: two years leading to an Associate degree, a further two years leading to a Bachelor Degree and a further two years leading to a Masters degree. This system has been designed to promote international student exchange.

Nevertheless, the OECD notes that

    'easing access (to Higher Education) remains one of the major challenges. Mounting real and perceived barriers to student mobility are likely consequences of the continuing proliferation of the numbers and forms of upper-secondary and post-secondary institutions. This is likely to be a closed system with few opportunities for students to move between and among specialisations and with little opportunity for others to enter at a later stage.'

Unfortunately the system at present lacks a common 'currency' such as an academic credit system. Current efforts are focussed on implementing an accreditation system across the Federation with the aim of establishing some comparability among and acceptance of academic qualifications earned at different institutions. The OECD feared that such measures would be insufficient to 'counter the centrifugal forces in the system'. The drive for student mobility between and among regions and countries is accelerating. Student mobility in the future will depend upon the availability of independent, nationally recognised certification - no matter how competencies are acquired.

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