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pathways (programs)

Accreditation: Who Needs It? (1999)

Pathways is now into its fourth year. It was inevitable that the question of the accreditation of the Pathways programs would arise. Some would argue that it is long overdue. The process towards the accreditation of Pathways has at last begun, and Pathways students will follow events with keen interest.

The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location. It's a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.

Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 13

WHY bother with accreditation? As any academic will tell you, the process of getting a new course properly accredited can be a real headache. Working out the fine details of course requirements in terms of the quantity and quality of students' academic work, the criteria for evaluation, available course materials, supervision, the amount of time required for study, envisaged 'learning outcomes', can often entail lengthy discussion, delicate negotiation, and endless adjustments until the details are just right. I have always thought that Pathways was well suited for the purposes it served. Why not just leave things as they are?

There are a number of reasons for taking the path of accreditation, but the strongest is this. The Internet has recently seen a proliferation of bogus schools and universities offering 'certificates' and 'degrees' which are not worth the paper they are written on. For the prospective student, validation by a recognised academic institution provides the only guarantee of the quality of a distance learning course. Professor David Bell, Head of the Philosophy Department at Sheffield, has therefore given me the go-ahead to start work towards producing a set of proposals for the validation of Pathways by the Sheffield University Board of Collegiate Studies.

The burden of time spent moderating the course, marking students work — not to mention the extra administrative work involved — will have to be reflected by an increase in fees. Provided, the extra cost is not too high, I believe that most Pathways students will welcome the changes. In addition, many students will now be attracted to the course who would otherwise have gone elsewhere to gain a University validated qualification.

The Philosophical Society of England, of which I am Director of Studies, will not be taking this route, at least for the foreseeable future. The Society has its own arrangements for checking on the standard of its Associate and Fellowship Diplomas, in the form of an independent, fully qualified Examiner. Up until now, this has proved perfectly adequate. For students who simply want to know what standard their work has attained and nothing more, the Examiner's Report on the work they have submitted is authoritative and reliable.

To meet the criteria for the award of a University Certificate in Philosophy, however, more is required. Pathways will have to answer such specific questions as, 'What proportion of an undergraduate course is a Pathways program equivalent to?' We have set the ambitious target of a 120 unit course, equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree.

As a first step towards this ambitious goal, we are now implementing our own stringent system of quality control. Course materials, methods of course delivery, tutor feedback and student outcomes will be subject to monitoring by a team led by Michael Bavidge, Chairman of the Philosophical Society of England and Deputy Head of the Newcastle University Centre for Lifelong Learning.

Meanwhile, I would be interested to hear your views. If you have any constructive suggestions to make please use the Comments form, or e-mail me. — This is your chance to help determine the future direction of Pathways.

Geoffrey Klempner