Closed and Open Credits in Undergraduate Programmes in Bangladesh
Universities in Bangladesh provide Bachelor degrees through credit hours. Each course is assigned the same or different number of credit hours. Students complete a required number of credit hours by taking a certain number of compulsory and where applicable, optional courses. This is the scenario for all universities in Bangladesh- public and private. However, the manner of course offering differs between public and private universities. The course offering in public universities is essentially a closed credit system, while that in private universities is essentially an open credit system. It may be helpful for students making a decision to go to university to know about these two types of credit systems.
Three different semesters exist in undergraduate programmes. These are: bi-semesters; tri-semesters; and an annual semester. The same university may have more than one semester. Irrespective of the number of semesters in an academic year, course numbers appear in three or four digits. The first digit (e.g., 101) indicates a course that has been designed to be taken in the first year of the undergraduate programme. A course with four digits e.g., 1101 is a course that has been designed to be taken in the first semester of the first year. Similarly, 200, 300 and 400 courses are designed to be taken in the second, third and fourth years. As a general rule, 100 & 200 level courses are foundational courses that are pre-requisites for advanced courses at 300 and 400 levels.
The central difference between closed credit and open credit systems is in the degree of freedom students have in course selection (CS). Under the closed credit system, students have minimal freedom, while under the open credit system students have wider flexibility in making a CS decision.
Under a closed credit system, the department or institute predetermines certain criteria of a CS decision for the student. These are designed within the syllabus of course offering. Six important criteria for each semester or academic year include: (a) what course will be taken; (b) in which semester the course will be taken (timing); (c) how many courses will be taken in a semester; (d) how many courses will be related to the honours and how many will be related to allied subjects; (e) who will be the course instructor; and (f) on which day and in what time slot the course will be offered. A closed credit system may include optional courses for specialization in a particular field. Students have freedom in their CS decisions, but even then the department or institute determines in which year (semester) they will take these courses; the course instructor and at what time of the week and time slot in the day.
Under an open credit system, students have a certain degree of freedom in making the above CS decisions on their own. It is possible for them to mix between 100, 200, 300, 400 courses in the same semester. They can decide to take certain courses in a semester of their liking. Students can also decide how many courses to take in a semester and how to mix between honours and allied courses. If the same course is offered at multiple time slots (or different days) under different instructors, students can choose according to their preference. Freedom never comes without a price. The challenge under an open credit system is: are students capable enough to make a well judged decision in their CS decisions? The answer to this question is mixed: individual students may be able to; or may not be able to. This is where 'advising' intervenes. At the beginning of a semester, students are advised on CS decisions. If possible, advising is given on a case by case basis. However, theory suggests, as the size of enrolled students in each semester increases, providing quality advising to students becomes a challenge. A greater challenge for students comes not from their CS decision, but from an external factor outside the control of the student.
Open credit programmes include a set of optional (elective) courses. Students are not obliged to take all these courses. And thus departments and institutes are not obliged to offer all of these courses. Optional courses are offered on the basis of availability of qualified instructors and when possible. Another inter-related factor is optional courses require students have completed certain compulsory (core) courses. If not, the student does not qualify to take the optional course; and has to wait for it to be offered in a future semester. These factors can contribute to a student over-running four years.
How do the two systems fare? Under the closed credit system all students face the same institutional constraints. If the institutional performance is good, all students benefit; otherwise, not. Under the open credit system, students need to plan well before a semester, receive favourable assistance from advising, and carefully choose optional courses when offered such that over-running four years does not arise.
Once a commitment to one of the two credit systems has been made, the decision is sunk. There can be no turning back. This decision will influence future outcomes in life. As students prepare to enroll in universities in Bangladesh between now and January-February next year, taking time out and assessing closed and open credit systems may well prove to be a very good investment in life.
(The author teaches economic theory in Jahangirnagar University and North South University)