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I am receiving a significant number of applications for a master programme in computer science from Islamic countries. When looking at their BSc curriculum and marks it turns out that a significant proportion (20 to 30%) of the successfully completed courses are subjects like “Correct Islamic thinking”, “Islamic order of the society” and similar which have nothing to do with computer science.

On the one hand one could argue that the applicants do not have sufficient credits to start a master in computer science because they are missing a third of the necessary credits in computer science but on the other hand it was possibly not the students’ choice to take the courses listed above and it would be unfair to score their applications down for reasons that are not their fault. Either way it doesn’t feel quite fair to me. How should one react in such a situation?

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    In a US degree, it's usual that less than half the credits are in the primary subject of study. Are you going to ask the same question of a Harvard transcript with courses on Shakespeare, Sociology of Crime, and The Reformation? Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 14:42
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    In fact, at St. Olaf, no more than one third (rounded up) of the credits for a Bachelor's degree can come from any single subject. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 14:44
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    @AlexanderWoo Well the question should state a location. In Europe it's quite normal to have less than 5% of credits in subjects other than the one you are supposedly studying.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 16:45
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    I've edited out "Islamic" from the title as it isn't related to those countries, per se, but to the difference in bachelors programs around the world. My undergraduate transcript (US) also shows some religion courses as I went to a Jesuit-run college where those courses were required. On the other hand, the math courses were excellent and set a firm foundation for pursuing a doctorate. But the bachelors is very different in some other countries. I have a minor in philosophy and also studied history, literature, etc. etc.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 18:57
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    Anecdotally, my masters program accepted students with BSc degrees from all over the world. Most students from less-developed countries (including all those from predominantly Islamic countries) had no chance of keeping up. A lot of them went back home with either no credits and no degree, or quickly went from 4th/5th year masters courses to 2nd year bachelors courses, so that they could at least learn something. Unfair as it may be that they haven't had the same educational opportunities, instead of guessing at their 'CS credits', evaluate their current level and abilities.
    – Servaes
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 6:51

4 Answers 4

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The solution we have at our (German) university for this is that we require each student to have a certain amount of credits in specific topics (for example at least 10 credits in courses about theoretical computer science, these are topics that are mandatory courses at all German computer science Bachelor programs). If they are missing credits, they are allowed to take Bachelor courses to make up for it, but only to a maximum of 3 courses in total. The university also keeps lists for universities we get a lot of applications from about which courses were accepted etc.

This makes sure that all students have at least a comparable basic knowledge. The more advanced topics in different programs can differ so much (even when they are CS related) that comparing them makes no sense anyway.

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  • "...but only to a maximum of 3 courses in total" - What happens if a student is missing four courses? Are they SOL to ever enroll in your program or do they have to take the fourth class at another institution and/or do a credit by exam or similar alternative credit opportunity? Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 10:33
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    Then the degree is deemed not sufficient to fulfill the requirements and they cannot enroll without getting a degree that is. The entire process is a bit more complex than I described here but there are only 8 courses in general that people might have to take, so more than 3 means they are missing basically half of the requirements. It normally only happens if they did not study CS but something related (eg electrical engineering) and want to switch for their Masters.
    – Claude
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 11:20
  • How do you define credits in such cases? Surely different institutions award credits in different ways, right?
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 14:34
  • Within Europe these things are in theory standardized but for unclear cases we take our 3 year full-time bachelor program with 180 credits as the baseline and then try to convert the amount of work someone did in an x year program to 60 credits each year. The students are expected/allowed to submit their own conversion formulas (because they know their program best) but we of course sanity check them. But in doubt we give the students more credits because this is just meant to create a baseline and its not their fault if they had a completely different system.
    – Claude
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 8:03
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You cannot hold the requirements of their universities against applications. For example, in the United States, some 25% of the credits every undergraduate has to take are from the "General University Curriculum", which includes courses on history, civic society, writing, a general science requirement, etc.

Universities in Germany are, in the international norm, outliers in that to get an undergraduate degree, you basically have to only take courses in that field. I studied physics in Germany, and had to take zero courses that weren't either physics, mathematics, or general chemistry. That is not the norm internationally, however.

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    Physics degrees in the UK aren't any different to German ones. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 18:25
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    I am not sure German is an outlier, rather the opposite, in the European context of tertiary education, while it is true that in the US undergrad have a variety of courses.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 18:29
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    Fair points. But I still think that the answer is useful as a perspective about at least some other countries. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 21:02
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    North America is the outlier. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 11:46
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    @YuvalFilmus No, that's not true. As the post points out, in Middle Eastern countries you have to take Islamic studies courses. And in China you have to take courses on Communism and the history of the Chinese revolution. It isn't just North America. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 19:52
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I think you are focusing on the wrong aspect. In a purely theoretical world, I expect that a Bachelor degree would provide 100% of the knowledge needed to be introduced to a (certain) Master degree.

However, to cover that 100% of knowledge the Bachelor degree needs something like 40% of its courses. Why? Because the Bachelor should be introductory to many Master degrees, plus should be enough for someone not willing to pursue a Master degree.

Let's say Bachelor in CS (BCS) is required for 3 different Master in CS, in topic A (MaA), B (MaB) and C (MaC). It can be that the Master in CS is only one, and the three topics are sub-tracks.

If the BCS is composed of 180 ECTS, I expect that in reality only about 100-120 ECTS are effectively required by each one of the Ma*. There will be obviously some overlap in the requirements of the three Masters, so a student completing the 180 ECTS in your system can pursue any of the three Master topic, while the unlucky Kaveh and the unlucky Niloufar may be bound to pursue MaA and MaC, while to pursue MaB they would be required to make up for the missing credits.

In short: ignore the non-core courses, focus on what matters to you. Those students would not have completed their university degree without taking those compulsory or semi-compulsory courses at the persian university. Even if not compulsory, it may be that if you take religious courses you are discharged from the army ... if living in a country that has sustained military involvement, it is a very rational to do (a couple of exams on God instead of being enlisted to shoot someone? yes please) [1]

[1] would you have the same doubts about US students that honourably served in the mighty US Army to get US citizenship and then discounted tuition fees?

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In order to properly participate in a masters programme, one requires a certain level of knowledge, ability and/or experience. Of course it is difficult to judge these qualities in another person, especially if you are tasked with judging a large number of people, spread across the globe, in a short period of time.

Credits have been introduced to give some indication of the time a person has spent studying certain subjects. They are by no means standardized, and by no means indicate any level of knowledge or ability. Only when you are familiar with the specific institute that issued these credits, can you infer more details about their qualifications from these credits.

So instead of focusing on their credits from institutes that you are not familiar with, and focusing on their mandatory 'extracurricular' activities, focus on their qualifications. Yes, the list of course names will give you some indication of the topics they are familiar with. But it will tell you very little about their actual level of knowledge, ability or experience. I would advise instead to schedule brief interviews with the most promising candidates to judge their actual qualifications.

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