National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation (NIAD-UE)/Fondation France-Japon de l'EHESS (FRANCE) (JAPAN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2016 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 6182-6190
ISBN: 978-84-608-5617-7
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2016.0467
Conference name: 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2016
Location: Valencia, Spain
University credit hour system, which plays a key role in demonstrating student completion of courses or degrees, has traditionally been used as a time-based proxy of student learning outcomes. However, how can we assure the quality of the credit hour system? , or how can we know whether the system substantially functions as well as intended? This study focuses on the U.S. and Japan, where credit hour issues have recently been a topic of political discussion, and examines and compares the challenges faced by governments, universities, and accreditors in implementing and evaluating the credit hour system.

Recently, the U.S. higher education has faced dilemmas in the application of the credit hours system; credit hours have been used as means of deciding federal funding allocations, but some institutions have indulged in malpractices such as credit hour abuse, fraud, and inflation. A new federal rule over credit hours was implemented in 2011 to increase the accountability for federal aid (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). The U.S. government requires accreditors to review universities’ credit hour policies and procedures, and their application, particularly focusing on seat-time allocation because these measures are tied to federal funds. Meanwhile, there has been debate over an alternative approach to measuring student learning, called competency-based education (CBE). The government still requires universities to develop a methodology to equate the CBE program to credit hours for complying with regulatory requirements, but is currently undertaking experiments, in which institutions proposing an effective CBE can obtain waivers from financial-aid regulations.

Japan, following the U.S. model, introduced the credit hour system in higher education after World War II. The new system was expected to encourage students to study proactively outside of classes, shifting from the cramming and passive learning styles under the former university regime. However, the original intention of the system has not been correctly interpreted and substantiated by universities. Japanese students’ average weekly study time outside class is about 2.37-6 hours, significantly less than that is required by law (30 hours), and that of international counterparts (14.7 hours in the U.S. and 14.4 hours in the U.K.). Because of concerns for international compatibility, the inadequate amount of study time has created external pressure in Japan. The Ministry of Education (MEXT, 2008; 2012) has repeatedly proposed that universities should encourage students to study proactively. Accreditors pays closer attention to reviewing how universities seek to increase study time.

In short, credit hours discussion in the U.S. mainly emphasizes accountability, but currently seeks an innovative solution struggling with a dilemma between retaining seat-time-based methodologies under regulations and encouraging innovations to directly demonstrate student competencies. In any case, unlike in Japan, invisible out-of-class study time is not a top priority for government and accrediting reviews. In contrary, Japanese review of credit hours focuses heavily on methods of increasing the number of study hours outside of classes, without a clear linkage to learning enhancement. Japan is facing dilemma between how the study time should quantitatively meet the compliance requirement and international standard, and how to confirm that the time would lead to successful learning.
Credit hours, learning outcomes, accreditation, competency-based education.