Earlier this year the OCA celebrated its 25th Birthday and Saturday marked the start of our new academic year. To most OCA students academic years are not relevant because of our start anytime policy, but we do take the opportunity once a year to update our student handbook, regulations and the associated FAQs on the website. Since we recognise that these are not necessarily documents which are read on a regular basis, this post seeks to draw your attention to a significant change and an associated smaller but nevertheless important change.
With effect from 1 September we have introduced a 12 year limit on the time available to complete a degree programme and a four year target to complete each of the three levels towards a degree. Having said this, there are two important points to make immediately:
- Firstly, the introduction of this time limit is not retrospective. This is important. To be absolutely clear, for existing students the time taken to earn credits before September does not count towards the 12 years. So, if you have taken 11 years to complete levels one and two, this does not mean we expect you to complete level 3 in one year. Rather, it is that we would expect you to complete the final third of your degree study in four years.
- Secondly, we fully understand that seven times two does not make 12. Twelve years was chosen as it is twice the normal limit for part-time study in Higher Education and represents study at 25% of full-time. The two year time limit for an individual course remains at two years and we understand that someone taking the maximum time for each course and only studying one unit at a time will run out of time. However, while this is theoretically possible, it does not reflect the student experience. Large numbers of students study more than one course at a time, the average time to complete a course is about 15 months and the average time to complete a degree with OCA is just under seven years.
So why make this change? For sound educational reasons. Degree study is akin to building pyramids, you build knowledge and skills upon the foundations laid previously. And knowledge moves forward. I know some will be immediately thinking that, for example, the understanding of the physics of light necessary for photography hasn’t really changed much in last few years, but critical thinking does move forward. We have to protect students’ chances of being successful at level three by ensuring they have a current understanding of the areas they studied earlier in the degree programme.
There is a second, related, reason for the time limit and targets. We know that the students who succeed are those who manage to find the way to establish a regular pattern of study. The time limit is extremely unlikely to impact on the time students take on each course, but will discourage taking large gaps between courses. Gaps in which these study patterns get eroded.
Finally, we are seeking to reinforce the understanding that sometimes it is important to stop working on projects and submit the work for assessment. There is always a danger in the absence of deadlines that a student will work and rework a perfectly good piece of work, growing less confident in its merits over time.
It is for this third reason that we are introducing the second smaller change which I referred to above. Going forward, students will be expected to submit work for assessment no later than the second assessment event after they complete a course, not the third assessment event as was previously the case.
While these changes may just be seen as restrictions on students, they are equally imperatives on us at the OCA head office to ensure we keep students aware of where they are in the programme and the time they have available for submitting for assessment. This is something we take very seriously.
To return to where we started, it has been very clear to me in my four years as the OCA’s Chief Executive that one changes the model which has been developed by the OCA over twenty five years with considerable care. However in that four years we have seen a dramatic change, with the majority of our students no longer studying for single courses but for full degrees – a fact reflected in the 43% increase in re-enrolments over the last twelve months. These changes are necessary to ensure what we do reflects those student expectations and it was with that in mind that I discussed the proposal with our Teaching and Learning Committee and sought approval from our Board of Trustees.
The full student regulations are available online and can be read here. I hope nothing in this post is a cause for concern. If that is the case; good, please just continue enjoying your course. If you are concerned, tell us why below. I will be checking back regularly and replying to comments.