Where does AP(E)L fit in Higher Education?
rhetoric and reality: accreditation of prior experiential learning
(AP(E)L) in the UK
The purpose of this analytical report on the development of AP(E)L
in higher education in the UK and elsewhere was to provide data
for a series of policy-oriented national fora on the issue in London,
Cardiff and Belfast in 2004, with the intention of developing a
national plan for AP(E)L. With regard to scale and methodology,
this short report is essentially an analytical review of research
literature on AP(E)L, with brief case studies of AP(E)L policy and
practice in Europe, Australia and North America. It was produced
by Jonathan Garnett, Derek Portwood and Carol Cosley, Middlesex
University, under commission from the University Vocational Awards
Council and the Learning and Skills Council.
The immediate UK contextual issues of the report are acknowledged
as the roll-out of the widening-participation policy programme and
the introduction of foundation degrees: both of which require new
thinking about how learning is framed and acknowledged. The report
was required to answer the specific question: what next for AP(E)L
in the UK? It outlines the power of AP(E)L rhetoric and the weaknesses
in its implementation over twenty-five years. A persistent weakness
was identified as the lack of acceptance by traditional, subject-based
academics who cannot concede that there could be a clear match between
evidence of experiential learning and the learning which is planned
through taught programmes. Despite modularisation and the use of
credit, practical issues of costs, training of staff and allocation
of resources have persisted. Additionally, the university sector
rarely engages in work-based learning (WBL) as the further education
sector does, and therefore the links between AP(E)L and WBL have
never been fully exploited by the university sector.
The research for this report deliberately set out to build a case
for a pro-active stance on AP(E)L systems for both HE and FE, based
on successful practices in Europe, North America and Australia.
The conclusions of this comparative research include the truisms
that AP(E)L enables universities to engage with ‘a wider constituency
of learners’, to widen participation and to provide equal
opportunities for learners.
The conclusions include an acknowledgment that, traditionally, knowledge
is constructed in a consistent way due to the hierarchical structures
of universities, where interdisciplinary knowledge is rarely shared
between and among faculties. Knowledge resulting from experiential
learning, therefore, is perceived as of less worth since it cannot
be commensurate with the structured learning of modules and programmes.
It is additionally of less worth as it emanates from vocational
or competence-based contexts where there is a perceived lack of
The challenge, therefore, for AP(E)L in the university sector is
to develop a ‘forward-looking’ policy-driven model where
prior learning experiences of adults act as the starting point for
new learning projects and for work-based learning activities, as
is the case in the French model. To achieve this, the report recommends
that AP(E)L, WBL, and vocational training for the labour market
should present an integrated front and should seek a coherent and
cohesive policy position in higher education.
Additionally the report acknowledges the shift in power-knowledge
from the education providers to the creators of knowledge outside
the academy. It recommends that universities should be alert to
the risk that AP(E)L might become yet another means of exclusion,
by creating new ‘micro-circulation of power’ which might
impact negatively on issues of access and equity. Within this power-shift,
AP(E)L represents a means by which university awards can be achieved
without the university’s traditional total ownership of the
learning and knowledge for such awards. Universities, therefore,
need to recast their definitions of credible and legitimate knowledge
and to forge partnerships with new knowledge producers.