Credit is key to opening up access to Higher Education, especially for students without standard entry qualifications. On this page we aim to explain how credit works and where to find further information to support you in your learning.
How Credit Works
Put simply, academic credit is the currency awarded to learning gained in formal and non-formal settings: a tool for measuring and formally recognising the equivalence of that learning. Academic credit can usually be transferred between institutions, each of whom will have their own guidelines about the process. Detailed FAQs about credit are below and we will just use the term ‘credit’ from now on.
What is credit?
Credit is a quantified means of recognising the amount of learning that has taken place and expressing equivalence of learning. Credit is awarded to a learner in recognition of the verified achievement of designated learning outcomes at a specified level. It is a way of recognising and comparing learning achieved in a variety of different contexts.
How is credit gained?
Credit is gained through the achievement of learning outcomes and their assessment.
How is credit quantified?
The amount of credit achieved is related to the amount of learning. In the UK, in further and higher education there is widespread agreement that ten hours of learning activity (including assessment) leads to the award of one credit. It is understood that this calculation is an approximation and depends on academic judgement. That judgement is guided by the identification of learning outcomes that are to be achieved during the learning experience and the amount of learning activity needed to achieve these.
Is all credit at the same level?
No, credit is awarded at different levels representing different degrees of educational challenge. SEEC has developed Credit Level Descriptors that describe in detail the increasing educational challenge as a student progresses through higher education. The credit level descriptors recognise five levels from first year undergraduate to the taught doctorate. The Burgess Report of 2004 endorsed reference for higher education to an ‘all-through’ framework for academic levels in England, to coincide with those in use in Wales and Northern Ireland. Credit is also awarded at pre-university levels through colleges of further education and in work-based learning, using the QCF in England, the all-through credit framework CQFW in Wales and the SCQF in Scotland.
What is the smallest amount of credit that can be awarded?
In theory it is possible to achieve one credit for 10 hours of assessed learning. In practice most programmes of higher level learning, including short courses, consist of more than ten hours of assessed learning. In most higher education learning is in the form of modules worth 10, 15, 20 or 30 credits and the smallest unit of learning will be 10 credits. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes may award credit for assessed short courses of 3 or 5 credits.
Can credit be transferred for one higher education institution (HEI) to another?
In principle credit is transferable and systems of credit are often referred to as CAT systems (credit accumulation and transfer). However, HEIs are autonomous and control their own entry requirements. At entry a student with prior credit will need to demonstrate that the credit has been awarded for study that is relevant to the programme in question. This is sometimes referred to as specific credit. A student will also have to demonstrate the currency of the credit to the programme of study. This will vary between programmes/institutions and may also vary if there is professional body accreditation involved.
What is the difference between general and specific credit?
All assessed learning can be awarded credit. The credit gained is a general recognition of assessed learning at specified levels – i.e. general credit. When the credit is recognised through the admissions procedure of an HEI as directly contributing to a programme, it becomes specific. The change in designation from general to specific relates directly to the relevance of the learning to the proposed programme and/or modules
Can credit be gained for learning outside an HEI?
There are two aspects to this question, depending on what is meant by ‘outside an HEI’: a) Credit is awarded for formal learning that has been assessed using a credit-based system. This has been available at higher-education levels but outside of an HEI context in all four countries of the UK since 2007, and is recognised as such by universities, especially in relation to work-based learning. HEIs are able to take the credit gained already into account if a potential student wishes to use it to gain entry into a university course, or to gain advanced standing (meaning the credit gets counted into a degree credit total). This is usually termed RPL, or recognition of prior learning, or APL, accreditation of prior learning. There is no guarantee, however, that it will be accepted for APL by every university; b) A second interpretation relates to learning that is achieved outside formal education, such as through paid work or voluntary work, leisure achievements, etc. This is often described as ‘experiential’ learning. Most HEIs have procedures for the assessment of prior experiential learning (APEL) to help in the identification and assessment of such learning, and the subsequent award of credit. It is essential to realise that it is the learning that is being assessed and quantified and not the experience itself.
What is the difference between general and specific credit?
Each HEI that uses a credit system will define its awards such as degrees in terms of the volume of learning (credit) at a particular combination of levels. There is general agreement about what is needed for an undergraduate award, which usually requires a total of 360 credits for a Bachelors Degree, 120 at each of the three levels that equate with a three-year degree. There are other awards which do not follow this pattern, and there is a difference between that and what is needed to complete a postgraduate award. A full account of the system in England is described in the SEEC publication ‘Credit and HE Qualifications: The Credit guidelines for HE qualifications for England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ (download a free pdf copy from the Resources page) where the different awards are compared to each other. However, remember that each HEI is an autonomous organisation, and may have its own interpretation of its country’s credit guidelines.
How is credit recorded?
HEIs keep a record of accumulated credits for each student as part of his or her university career using a Management of Information System (MIS) database, and they produce a ‘transcript’ annually, at the completion of each stage of an award, or when the student leaves the programme.