Open Eye: Credit where credit's due

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The Independent Online
ONCE there was a BA (Open) degree. Nowadays, OU students can gain a BSc as well as a BA and can opt for a 'named' degree, made up of a specific profile of courses.

There are more than 50 other qualifications offered by the OU, ranging from Masters to Certificates and Diplomas, some of which will be of interest to those who graduated from the OU in the days when the only degree available was the BA.

The whole business of courses having a value, or credit, is commonplace, although the OU system of studying in a modular fashion made the rating of courses much easier.

Students who have already completed some relevant study elsewhere may be able to benefit from credit transfer. There are now schemes for about 15 of the OU's Diplomas and Masters degrees, as well as for the BA and BSc.

Credit transfer is a complicated business. So it's as well that at least one leaflet produced by staff of the OU's Credit Transfer Centre has received a Crystal Mark award, for clarity, by the Plain English Campaign.

Anna Zorkoczy, who heads up the 20-strong team who deal with credit transfer, sees the work becoming more varied and complex as the range of schemes increases.

The work of the Centre is to evaluate students' previous qualifications and to award credit where appropriate. Most of its business is still about the BA and BSc degree, with about 6,000 claims a year. But the number of Diploma and Masters claims is rising, and is now about 1,000 a year.

The work of making checks with other learning bodies is time-consuming and labour intensive, which is why the OU levies a pounds 74 fee. But as Anna points out: "By paying pounds 74 for the claim, they may, for example, be exempt from stage one of the MBA, which costs four figures, and they save on time and effort, so it could be well worth it."

The fee covers the cost of assessing credit claims; most other universities do not charge directly, but the cost is reflected in other fees. And other institutions do not have the volume of students seeking to have their credit recognised.

According to Anna, about 95 per cent of those who claim credit get it. "We try to give them enough information so that when they make a formal claim they they have a realistic chance of getting credit. They get as much free advice as they need."

Early advertising campaigns by the OU made much play of the fact that students do not need previous qualifications to study with the University. However, credit transfer opportunities could well make the OU attractive to those who have studied before.

"The OU is more mainstream than it used to be," says Anna, "because we are funded in the same way as other universities and are subject to the same sort of quality checks, that all helps."

There are a growing number of people coming to the OU with professional qualifications, with a credit value which can be used towards gaining an OU postgraduate qualification, including an MBA.

"We have assessed many unusual courses and qualifications, and many students have been able to achieve OU qualifications more quickly, because they haven't had to duplicate their previous studies," says Anna.

People wishing to claim credit for courses need to be aware that the system of assessment is set to change.

The basic-rate transferred scheme is being replaced and although the new arrangements will be similar, they will be more stringent.

If you believe your previous study is eligible for basic-rate credit, then you should make a claim under the current arrangements.

However, if you make a claim and then find your previous study attracts a higher award under the new arrangements, there will be a chance to have them reassessed.

For details ring Credit Transfer (01908) 653077; or e-mail and don't forget to say towards which OU award you are seeking credit transfer.