The recognition of prior learning (RPL) describes a process used to evaluate skills and knowledge gained through life outside of formal education and training, for the purpose of recognising life achievements against a given set of standards or learning outcomes.
Legal framework for RPL in Ireland
The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 sets
out the statutory basis for QQI's engagement with RPL, mainly through our responsibility to establish policies and criteria for access, transfer and progression (ATP) for providers.
On the basis of QQI policies, providers then establish ATP procedures that they will implement. These must include policies on credit accumulation, credit transfer and identification and for the formal assessment of the knowledge, skill and competence previously acquired by learners (Section56 (1), (2), (3). The Act (amended) also states that providers without designated awarding powers may make a request to QQI for an award to a learner who has met the standards of that award based on the assessment of previously acquired learning. A University or Institute of Technology can, in line with their own ATP procedures make awards, including certificates, diplomas and degrees on the basis of assessed previously acquired learning.
Quality assurance policy framework of RPL
In 2015 QQI published an Access, Transfer and Progression Policy Restatement 2015. Following consultation on approaches to policy development, the Principles and Operational Guidelines for the Recognition of Prior Learning in Further and Higher Education and Training were also republished.
QQI's Core Statutory Quality Assurance Guidelines require that provider policies and procedures for learner admission, progression and recognition include ‘fair recognition of education and training qualifications, periods of study and prior learning, including the recognition of non-formal and informal learning’ and that the provider ethos enables flexible learning pathways.
In addition, Policies and Criteria for the Validation of Programmes of Education and Training includes explicit reference to RPL for the purposes of access, advanced entry and exemptions.
RPL is also integrated into the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and the National Skills Strategy. The ‘Programme for Government, Our Shared Future’ commits to ‘Develop and implement a standardised system of accreditation of prior learning taking account of previous education, skills, work experience and engagement in society'.
The RPL Practitioner Network, Ireland
The RPL Practitioner Network is a community of practice for people working and interested in RPL, proposed in 2014 through the Irish Universities Association and THEA (formerly the IOTI) by representatives from the Cork Institute of Technology and Maynooth University. The Network is led by a Steering Group comprising representatives of THEA, IUA,ETBI, Teagasc, Aontas, the NCGE, ETBs and QQI. For more information click here.
European Inventory, Country Update, Ireland 2018
Ireland participates in the European Inventory on the Validation of non-formal and informal learning, published by CEDEFOP. The Inventory examines progress nationally and internationally in the implementation of the 2012 Recommendation on the Validation of non-formal and informal learning. (For more information click here). The 2018 Update is available here.
The 2018 Synthesis report looking at practices across Europe is available here.
Recognition of Prior Learning in Practice is an Erasmus+KA3 policy experimentation project in which QQI and the Cork Institute of Technology participate on the request of the Department of Education and Skills. The Irish Universities Association and Mary Immaculate College are also participating, along with the Swedish Council for Higher Education (project lead), Eurashe and authorities and institutions from Austria, Croatia and Iceland. The project addresses the finding of the Bologna Implementation Report (2018) which indicates that alternative routes to HE are rarely used and that only five higher education systems have nationally established and regularly monitored procedures, guidelines or policy for the assessment and recognition of prior learning. The project focus is on practice, and the development of practical guidelines. More information is available here.
VISKA, Making Skills Visible: an Erasmus+KA3 policy experimentation project, 2017-2020
VISKA was an international policy experimentation project, offering RPL to people with low levels of qualifications but with transversal skills, to see whether skills mismatch and distance to opportunities in employment, education or training could be reduced. QQI with partners from Norway, Iceland, Belgium and CIT as the research partner, participated. International and national project results are now published, including learning and recommendations to support progress. For more information, click here.
Report on RPL in FET published (2017) – A report entitled ‘Recognition of Prior Learning in Irish Further Education and Training (FET)’ prepared by CIT on behalf of QQI provides an overview of RPL in the Further Education and Training sector. To access the report, click here.
Learners seeking RPL
If you have questions about having your own learning and achievements recognised through an RPL process, it may be useful to talk to your local adult education guidance service or education and training provider.
The following websites may help: