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



Since the reforms of 1993 which abolished the state's obligation to find jobs for all graduates, the institutions which make up the higher education system in China have been less strictly regulated, both in terms of student numbers and in their curricula (Hayhoe, 1999),(Bai, 1997). Increased economic prosperity has led to the growth in some more affluent areas of self-paying programmes which provide access to elite state and provincial universities for students who would otherwise have been relegated by strict quota restrictions to the less prestigious adult sector. Despite improved access, tight restrictions are still imposed on geographical mobility within China and no national credit accumulation and transfer system is in place. International mobility for selected students and faculty is provided for by the many international exchange programmes under the auspices of foreign governments and overseas aid organisations which have flourished since the opening up of China in the 1980s. Recent initiatives by the Hong Kong SAR government have increased fully funded opportunities for mainland students to study for a degree in the HKSAR. Because of the difference in length of undergraduate degree programmes in the two systems, the selected students are required to undertake a first year of study in their mainland university before coming to Hong Kong to complete a full three year Bachelor's programme. The programme relies upon twinning relationships between individual institutions in Hong Kong and on the Mainland. While such programmes ensure that Chinese students and scholars are able to maintain contact with the international academic community, they remain subject to strict control.

Hong Kong

The university system in Hong Kong at the moment consists of two well-differentiated models.

The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) (which is largely self-financing) is concerned with offering learning opportunities at HE level to all who aspire to them. To that end, it adopted an open-access, credit-based degree system from its foundation in 1989, and has a well-developed Advanced Standing system based on precedent cases to facilitate the transfer of credits into and out of its programmes (see http://www.ouhk.edu.hk/ ~regww/as/elig.html).

Within the Government-funded sector, the two former polytechnics have well-established arrangements for the award of credit towards a first degree in respect of the successful completion of courses leading to Diplomas, or Higher Diplomas in the same institution ('vertical' transfer). The transfer of credit 'horizontally', however, (i.e. between institutions within Hong Kong and within degree courses) is virtually unknown. All institutions, however, are willing to make such arrangements in respect of students moving between institutions in Hong Kong and those in other countries (both incoming and outgoing). These arrangements are most common in the case of transfers between institutions in Hong Kong and those in North America (some of which are based on well-established relationships between pairs of such institutions), others of which are made ad hoc. This situation is changing, however, with the introduction of the UMAP scheme (University Mobility in Asia Pacific) - which, although still at the trial stage at the moment, is intended to cover a dozen or more countries in the region - and the development of two-year Associate Degrees offered by the 'Community Colleges' associated with the Continuing Education Schools of some of the universities in Hong Kong - which it is hoped will be accepted by countries throughout the world (as well as in Hong Kong) as a basis for the transfer of credit.


Like Singapore and Hong Kong, the Malaysian Higher Education system owes its basic structures to the British model. There is as yet no national system for the accumulation and transfer of credit although sources at the Ministry of Education confirm that it is under discussion. Individual universities have the autonomy to accept transfer students at their own discretion. The Malaysian Higher Education system has been under intense pressure to expand in recent years to feed the rapidly growing economy. This has led to the growth of private colleges with links to overseas universities. Students completing a diploma at such institutions may transfer to the second or third year of study at partner universities in the UK and Australia through formal 'twinning' arrangements. Most recently, as part of Malaysia's drive to rival Singapore as a regional centre of excellence in Higher Education, respected overseas universities have been permitted to set up their own campuses in Malaysia. The University of Nottingham will take in students from September 2000. (See http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ malaysia.)


Higher education in Singapore is a binary system, delivered by three Universities : the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Management University; and five Polytechnics (http://schools.moe.edu.sg) Only the universities offer degree level study. Entry is very competitive and is determined by performance at A-level examinations. The Polytechnics offer Diplomas, with post secondary entry requirements and Advanced Diplomas which are open to candidates who have already gained a diploma. Diploma holders with good academic results may also apply for entry to university courses. Acceptance is at the discretion of the receiving institution. Singapore has no national CAT system.

Although originally based on the British model, higher education in Singapore has developed on more international lines over recent years, adopting aspects of the American system such as the introduction of junior colleges which specialise in preparing students for A-level examinations and entry to university. The American influence may also be observed at university level, in the adoption and adaptation of the credit-based system by the National University of Singapore (NUS) (http://www.nus.edu.sg). The University defines its modular system as follows:

    'The NUS Modular system combines the rigour and depth of the British system with the flexibility and breadth of the American system. Students can progress at their own pace and graduate earlier by offering more modules in the semester and/or the optional Special Term, subject to time-table arrangements. In addition, students can choose from a wide range of modules offered by different faculties.

    The ultimate aim of the NUS modular system is to provide a healthy diversity of learning opportunities so that students can develop to their full potential.'

For its part, the Nanyang Technological University (http://www.ntu.edu.sg) describes the framework for the award of its four year honours degrees in the following terms:

    'The courses are conducted on an Academic unit system. This is a hybrid of the American credit unit system and the British system of a prescribed core of essential subjects.'

International links with prestigious overseas universities are a feature of Singapore's universities. These 'twinning' arrangements provide opportunities for students to benefit from periods of study abroad, and attract international students to Singapore's campuses.

Developments in Singapore are always keenly reviewed in Hong Kong, as the two cities compete for regional primacy on a number of fronts. In the field of higher education, Singapore's declared ambition to become the regional centre of excellence, and to be known as the 'Boston of the East' challenges the aspirations of both Hong Kong and Malaysia in this regard.

The desired outcomes of higher education expressed by Singapore Polytechnic at http://www.sp.edu.sg/About SP/ desired_outcome_of_education.html have many resonances with the aims of education for Hong Kong expressed in the Education Commission's latest reform proposals. Both systems aim to produce students who are morally upright, culturally rooted in their Asian context yet internationally and globally focussed, creative, analytical, problem-solvers and life-long learners; and future leaders who will be committed to improving society and able to make breakthroughs in a knowledge-based economy. At present, in both jurisdictions, in the absence of a fully developed inter-institutional CAT system, credit-based degree programmes provide opportunities for breadth of study within the home institution, and create a viable framework for counting periods of study with partner institutions overseas.


The Higher Education system in Taiwan bears a strong resemblance to the Japanese model in that it consists of a large private sector accounting for over 70% of enrollments and an elite public sector, which sets overall standards and dominates top-level employment opportunities. All higher education provision is strictly controlled by the State. There are at present 23 universities (15 public and 8 private) and 35 independent 4-Year Colleges (17 public and 18 private) offering academic courses and programmes. Vocational education is catered for by 72 junior colleges (13 public and 59 private). Entry to universities is by examination and is very competitive, favouring students who have attended academic senior high schools. However, reform proposals adopted in 1998 envisage the abolition of the Joint University Entrance exam in 2002. This will lead to an unprecedented massification of higher education in Taiwan. (See http://www.taiwanheadlines.com/ 20000110/20000110s1.html.)

University education is organised by credit hours on the US model with programmes lasting from 4 to 6 years. The State dictates the number of credit hours that must be devoted to general education, basic literacy and free electives in an accredited programme of study. At present there is no national credit transfer system. As is the case in many other of the small national systems under consideration in this study, the major attraction of a credit-based system is to facilitate and encourage international student exchange.


There is no national system in Thailand for the transfer of credit. Each university is free to decide on its own requirements for admission, and for the recognition of study undertaken elsewhere. A sample of the sort of requirements which are specified, extracted from those of Assumption University, Bangkok, is attached as Appendix 29 (http://www.au.ac.th./ admission/transfer.html). The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) (in Bangkok) is reported to have adopted ECTS (the European Union's Credit Transfer Scheme) in order to attract EU students.


An organisation already exists to promote university mobility in Asia and the Pacific. UMAP's eleven regional members (Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Samoa, Taiwan, Thailand, USA and Vietnam) have devised a credit transfer scheme (UCTS) to help make UMAP more effective by ensuring that credit is awarded for study undertaken on exchange programmes and to facilitate greater mobility between UMAP countries/territories and other regions. It features an UCTS credit point scale, for use as a conversion scale to record the student workload in a form suitable for conversion to the home institution workload measure and an UCTS grade scale, for use as a conversion scale, to record host institutions' grades in a form suitable for conversion to home institution grades. The system was due to be piloted in the second half of 1999. To date, no results of the trial are available. See documentation at Appendix 30.

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