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Where does AP(E)L fit in Higher Education?

Author - Anne Murphy


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Part 2: Cross-cutting themes

The TRANSFINE Final report (p. 35) summarises the EU-wide status of AP(E)L in this way:

We recognise that there are a number of tensions and political debates that form the context for our proposals. In particular there is the struggle between the academic and vocational communities over the appropriate concepts, structures and tools that should be used in this domain; between the employers and the vocational training sector over ownership of the certification process in the workplace; and between the institutions and the third sector organisations over the extent to which such processes should be learner-centred and open-ended. It has been clear from our work that there has been little co-operation or collaboration between these different sectors at national or European level and considerable tensions at both levels. However, our work has also shown that practitioners find working together both stimulating and fruitful and while differences remain there is also a considerable degree of agreement about core principles and practice.

Across the reports there are areas of convergence on both the problems and potential of AP(E)L becoming a mainstream activity across all VET and HE. A number of those themes are listed below, without priority.

Terminology
There is still considerable divergence on terminology and meanings, which then translate into divergences in practice. There is not yet general acceptance of the EU/Cedefop definitions of formal, informal and non-formal learning. Nor is there agreement on definitions of ‘validation’, ‘valorisation’, ‘accreditation’, ‘assessment’ and ‘recognition’ of prior learning.

Credit and levels systems
The lack of a common credit system across VET and HE is seen as a barrier to an inclusive approach to learner access and progression through AP(E)L. This is compounded by nations/regions having definitions of levels of learning which are not sufficiently compatible to enable mutual recognition of prior learning, both certificated and experiential.

Marginalisation and stereotyping of AP(E)L
National policies and institutional policies enabling AP(E)L in the UK and Ireland have not necessarily resulted in it becoming a mainstream activity. Rather it is generally driven by individuals or sectors, usually with the individual applicant being obliged to pursue their own interests. Stereotypically it is regarded as time-consuming and cumbersome relative to the benefits for learners.

Views of knowledge and learning
Those in HE do not seem convinced that it is appropriate to become involved in the acknowledgement of problematic learning outside the academy, while there remains a lack of clarity about what exactly is to be assessed: inputs or outcomes. There may be a view in HE that AP(E)L is not necessary at all as a major activity, since it could just represent a transitional phase in development from an industrial society to a learning society where there will be a greater need for worker mobility in a market-driven workplace. If this is the case, then there are other key changes required such as a focus on the rights of the individual to achieve his/her optimum potential in society generally.

AP(E)L Tools
There was a general theme that AP(E)L tools should not be discriminatory among and between groups and individuals from groups. Tools should build on what is already tested and which have achieved a high degree of credibility and acceptability.

Curriculum, teaching and learning
AP(E)L is an opportunity to examine how curricula and pedagogical approaches are organised in VET and HE. Academic and administrative staff need opportunities to deal with the theoretical and practical implications for their own practice, and this should be supported with extensive staff training opportunities, including opportunities to contribute to the developing scholarship of teaching in varied contexts. Changes in pedagogies should start form existing reference points, and be developed from practice rather than from imposed policy.

Linking AP(E)L to work-based learning
The potential to link AP(E)L to work-based learning and contractual, negotiated learning is regarded as hugely under-developed.

What is greatly needed:
• Financial support for extensive AP(E)L provision is essential so that it becomes a rights-based rather than an individually pursued option for learning
• Easy-to-access information is essential with guidance provision, as is the case for traditional modes of access to VET and HE
• Capacity building for staff
• Compatibility and cohesion of credit and levels systems with existing regulation
• Flexible approaches to assessment of learning greatly underpinned by learning theory
• Integration of AP(E)L into all quality assurance systems
• Views of learning which are non-hierarchical and which focus on both capabilities of learners as well as current competence for a market-driven model of education.

 


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