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Comparing International Credit Systems

Comparing International Credit Systems

How can programs or degrees across countries and continents be compared? What degrees can count for access as students move internationally? How can credit systems be translated across international educational standards and practices? Is there something like a common currency? These are questions that particularly important in a global framework like the SGGETE.

General criteria

No international standards. The first thing to notice is that there is no single international standard for the quantitative measurement of educational units (courses, programs, degrees). The transfer of credits from system to another is a matter of calculations, and certain ambiguities cannot always be excluded.1 It is not possible, for example, to define globally applicable “total credit requirements for each degree program (i.e., MA, MDiv, etc.)” or even to “identify an acceptable range” of credits. Nomenclature and regulations are different in the various educational systems.

For example, whereas the rule MA = 2 years, MDiv = 3 years, MTh = 4 years works in the American structure, in Europe, there are different kinds of Master’s degree studies, which generally must comprise at least 300 ECTS and can mean either 5 years full-time; 3 years (180 ECTS) for the Bachelor level plus 2 years (120) ECTS; or 4 years plus 1. Also, in Europe, there is often no difference in duration between an MA and an MTh. The degree nomenclature is thus very difficult to compare.

Need for careful calculations. Since duration (credit requirements for degrees) and nomenclature differ in the various educational systems, institutions should be required to identify the duration of the programs (total credit hours). Transfer across educational systems should always require careful calculation (degree nomenclature alone is not a solid indicator for the duration of programs).

Time-based credits? We also need to be aware of the fact that the concept of ‘time-based’ credits has been criticized on educational grounds. The credit system puts the emphasis on duration; however, in educational terms, achievement can only be measured by the demonstration of competencies. How much time a student needs to acquire certain competencies is a secondary issue. What ultimately counts are learning outcomes, not hours of learning. However, in the process of growing international mobility in Higher Education and an increasing number of part-time students, the need for comparability of duration emerged. A currency to at least measure tentatively the total learning time a student invests facilitates the comparison of courses and programs. But it should be kept in mind that this is only an auxiliary structure. Therefore, terms such as “notional hours of learning” or “average hours of learning” are often used. While credit systems are helpful tools to quantify educational processes, it should always be clear that the quality of education can only be measured by the assessment of learning outcomes.

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