Following a pilot introduced earlier this year, nine high-ranking universities from across the globe are this month signing an international agreement for a virtual exchange whereby they offer their students the option of taking online elective courses and gain credits for their bachelor or master degrees.
This global agreement represents a major step in digital higher education. In a bold collaborative move to innovate education, this group of reputable institutions has taken audacious steps by agreeing to recognise each other’s online courses and formally transfer credit for their students. The agreement was announced on 5th December at the edX Global Forum - a yearly occasion where EdX, the leading open source non-profit online learning platform, and its over 130 leading international university partners gather to share insights and innovations in education. This announcement is directly in line with the mission of edX and its partners, who are working together to continuously improve on-campus education
In a similar way to a university regular exchange – such as the Erasmus in Europe, students can obtain credits from a partner university that count towards their ‘home’ education. The difference of course is that in this ‘virtual’ exchange the students don’t need to travel as they study online and take the relevant course exams at their own university.
Starting from January 2018, students can take an online course from their own university or a course from one of the partners. As a result, the number of elective courses at the participating universities increases considerably. This is a novel way to look at internationalisation – offering students a new way to expand their knowledge and enrich their portfolio by giving them access to more expertise from reputable institutions worldwide.
The top universities participating in this innovative programme and signatories of the pioneering agreement are: the Delft University of Technology, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Wageningen University and Research, Rice University, the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Leiden University.
The journey toward this agreement has not been without challenges, in particular as all participating universities - internationally recognised for their high educational standards – found it imperative that those standards be maintained in the online exchange too. This also meant ensuring that appropriate testing for the online courses is in place and a correct weighting of the credits, together with relevant entry requirements.
Key to the success of this spearheading agreement is the fact that the partner institutions already know and trust each other – they already hold mobility exchange agreements, have experience in online education and enjoy a good international reputation.
“In order to consider integrating an online course from a different university into its own regular study programme, each institution must trust that the course is of high quality and produced by a reliable partner they know and have worked with before,” says Drs Anka Mulder, Vice President for Education & Operations at the Delft University of Technology.
On the advantages of the initiatives, Drs Mulder remarks: “The virtual exchange not only offers students a wider range of courses and expertise, it also makes learning more flexible, allowing them to study across borders. This also benefits those students who for reasons of time or financial constraints are not able to travel to another institution as part of a regular exchange.”
In addition, online learning through the virtual exchange gives students a different valuable learning experience combined with the opportunity to form connections in a culturally rich student community while gaining access to world-class knowledge.
The virtual exchange initiative has gathered interest and momentum amongst higher education institutions and it is anticipated this will lead to new ways of thinking about credit exchange.