Update on two Bologna-Relevant Documents, May 2009
QAA Self-Certification document (November 2008) [PDF]
This is the QAA's self-certification that the national qualifications framework for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ) is compatible with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (FQ-EHEA). [The corresponding self-certification for Scotland has already taken place.]
The important things for Mathematical Sciences are whether the number of credits for bachelor's and master's degrees, including integrated master's degrees, lie within the limits stated in the FQ-EHEA for first and second cycle qualifications;
the descriptors of bachelor's and master's degrees in terms of learning outcomes which the QAA uses (the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications) are compatible with those adopted by the EHEA (the Dublin Descriptors).
The Self-Certification document comes to the conclusion that both (a) and (b) are indeed true, though the matter is not completely straightforward.
(a) (i) It is important that integrated master's degree programmes should include study equivalent to at least four full-time academic years, of which study equivalent to at least one full-time academic year is at level 7 ['M level']. There is no statement that all the M level material must be in the final year, but it should amount to a full 120 credits in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland scheme (sometimes called CATS), that is one academic year. The integrated master's degree then (just) meets the requirement for a second cycle qualification.
(ii) For stand-alone master's degrees a more typical number of CATS is 180, of which at least 120 should be at M level. (The range in the EHEA is typically 180-240 CATS.)
(iii) Bachelor's degrees with honours should have 360 CATS with at least 90 at the level of the qualification (i.e. 'honours level').
(b) (i) The document states that the learning outcomes must conform both to the Dublin Descriptors and to the FHEQ. It is well-established that, for Mathematical Sciences (more precisely, MSOR) the Dublin Descriptors are significantly more appropriate than the QAA's descriptors, the FHEQ.
(ii) In the commentary on matching the FHEQ and the FQ-AHEA, the following is stated:
'Much of the study undertaken for a FHEQ master's degrees will have been at, or informed by, the forefront of an academic or professional discipline.'
The words 'or informed by' are consistent with the Dublin Descriptors.
(iii) The document also states:
'There are several extra dimensions that need to be taken into account when cross-referencing the two sets of descriptors. The FHEQ is just one part of the Academic Infrastructure that also includes subject benchmark statements, programme specifications and the Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education. In particular, the subject benchmark statements [for both bachelor's and master's degrees] act as an important reference point.'
The last two quotations suggest that the QAA does not insist on a literal reading of the FHEQ and 'informed by' the forefront of the discipline, together with the MSOR benchmarks, lay down the actual rules in practice for degrees in MSOR.
ECTS Users' Guide, Final Version (February 2009) [PDF]
(i) 60 ECTS credits ( = 120 CATS) are attached to the workload, including assessment and obligatory placements, of a fulltime year of formal learning (academic year) and the associated learning outcomes. The Guide states that, in most cases, student workload ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 hours for an academic year, whereby one credit corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work. [Section 2].
With a UK academic year of 30 weeks, or two 15-week semesters, 1500 hours is equivalent to 50 hours per week. In fact in some northern European countries, the academic year can be as long as 10 months.
In Annex 5 it is stated there are 1200-1800 hours per academic year in the UK, 20 hours per ECTS. This makes 60-90 credits per year and, at a 30-week academic year, a working week of 40-60 hours. (Possibly 1800 hours, though described as an academic year, is really an 'MSc year'.)
(ii) There is no longer any statement that the maximum number of ECTS credits is 75 in a calendar year.
(iii) As with the self-certification document, the Guide states (Section 3.3):
The first two Bologna cycles are associated with the following ECTS credit ranges:
First cycle qualifications typically include 180-240 ECTS credits.
Second cycle qualifications typically include 90-120 ECTS credits, with a minimum of 60 ECTS credits at the level of the 2nd cycle.
These credit ranges follow the ECTS key feature stating that 60 ECTS credits are attached to the workload of a typical full-time academic year13 of learning within a formal learning programme. This rule applies to all higher education qualifications independent of their level.
(iv) There is an important comment in Section 4.2, concerning failure in individual modules. Though this does not specify an amount of permissible failure it does indicate that 'passing all modules' is not an absolute requirement within the EHEA.
Some national or institutional regulations foresee 'condoning'/compensation procedures [note17, below]. In such cases, the details of that process should be transparent.
Note 17: Condoning is the term used when an examination board exempts a student from reassessment in a failed (or marginally failed) component if the other related components are passed with sufficiently high grades.
(v) There is also a section on the ECTS Grading Table as an attempt to convert "grades" from one academic system to another. This requires institutions to produce (perhaps for individual degree programmes, or faculties, etc.) a table of percentages of students, over at least two academic years, who achieve the various grades awarded. Comparing these tables between institutions is supposed to give a guide to converting a grade at one institution into a grade at another. [In the UK presumably "grade" would mean only I, II.1, II.2, III, Pass, Fail.]