South Korea’s Credit Banking System Turns 20 - Part 1: A Look Back

Since its inception in 1998, the South Korean Credit Bank System has grown in leaps and bounds.  From 1998 to 2007, the credit bank registered 279,530 lifelong learners striving for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. From 2008 to 2017, over 1.1 million people registered for degrees through the Ministry of Education-approved system. Participation has seen a massive increase in part stimulated by a tightening national economy and the global economic downturn, and in part because ACBS now offers myriad options for degrees, majors, specializations, and courses, as well as a plethora of ways to accumulate credit."From 2008 to 2017, over 1.1 million people registered for degrees through the Ministry of Education approved system."

Perhaps a little background on the credit bank system is warranted at this point. The Academic Credit Bank System (학점은행제)(ACBS) was created by legislation, the Act on the Recognition of Academic Credit (학점인정 등에 관한 법률), in 1997 and has since been reinforced through various laws meant to fine-tune the system and to ensure that universities and employers recognize the credits and degrees earned through the ACBS as equivalent to those earned at other degree-granting institutions.

The Act on the Recognition of Academic Credit implemented the philosophy of lifelong education – the pursuit of education not only from preschool through university, but also throughout one’s life – by allowing learners to accumulate credit via a variety of means. When the bill was introduced, the intent was to codify alternative routes of acquiring university education for underprivileged groups, to diversify learning experiences, to encourage balanced development, and to strengthen the power and purpose of education. That essentially meant creating a system that would figure out how to pool credits earned in traditional-style institutions, i.e. universities and colleges, along with work completed in non-traditional facilities, i.e. private institutions, employer-based certificates and badges. The amalgamation of each of these sources, it was proposed, could then result in a degree issued by the Ministry of Education that would be recognized just like a degree issued at a degree-granting institution.

In the first ten years of operation, ACBS awarded 81,003 degrees; over the next ten years, ACBS issued nearly 600,000 degrees. At its height in 2014, 75,870 degrees were issued, almost as many as were issued in the first ten years.  

Over its 20-year lifespan, the process of credit banking has been streamlined and organized into an effective system of addressing alternative credentials and alternative learning approaches. ACBS reviews all credits and courses submitted for approval. If the courses align with the standardized curriculum, as defined by the Ministry of Education, those credits are added to the learner’s portfolio. After accumulating the required approved credits, a degree is issued.

There are six ways to accumulate credit. Credits can be earned through recognized courses, part-time enrollment, accredited schools, self-taught degrees, qualifications and certificates, and intangible cultural properties.

Degrees are awarded by the Ministry of Education and issued by the National Institute of Lifelong Education (NILE) or by degree-granting institutions that can award degrees to credit-based students (as opposed to program-based) who meet the school’s degree requirements. Typically this means that a student will earn and accumulate the credits required to meet the standardized curriculum and program requirements established by the ACBS. The maximum number of credits that can be earned is 42 per year and up to 24 credits per semester. Additional majors can also be earned for any holders of previous associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.

In the next post we will talk about the more recent changes to the Academic Credit Bank System.

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William Bellin is a Senior Evaluator who has been with ECE since 2008. William has contributed to several publications including the ECE® publication Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean. He is  also the author of The Islamic Republic of Iran: Its Educational System and Methods of Evaluation.



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