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

Author - Anne Murphy

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Part 3: The French AP(E)L Model

The French 2002 loi de modernisation sociale strengthened the mechanisms for ‘Validation des Acquis de l’Experience (VAE) as the new mode for accreditation of experience in an approach to the award of qualifications. Before 2002 there were three procedures for accrediting experiential learning in higher education, namely the ‘Ingenieur DPE’ procedure 1934; the 1985 decree for access; and the 1992 and 1993 decrees for accreditation of part of the diploma in higher education, secondary education, agricultural education, and youth qualifications. There were also experimental systems to award workplace learning within companies, and for unemployed adults.

Though qualifications in health, security and defence were excluded from the 2002 law, considerable changes were made, with the emphasis shifting to the rights of the socially/economically active individual to access and support from higher education. Those rights now include the following:

• the right to claim accreditation for learning provided the individual was employed or working (including voluntary work) for at least three years
• the right to request a response form an education institution
• the right to paid work leave to meet their AP(E)L accompanier/adviser
• the right to a full award on the basis of experiential learning provided that award is included in a national list of awards
• the right to have the whole experience of the individual taken into account, not only professional/work experience

The conditions for application for AP(E)L in this manner must be on the basis of a clear learning plan. This plan should ideally relate to the professional work of the applicant or the work of the employing organisation.

The procedures of progressing an AP(E)L claim may include the following:

• development of a portfolio by the candidate/applicant
• observation of the applicant at work
• interview with a panel/jury
• decision by the jury on full award or recommendation for partial award and completion of a learning plan

The jury must be constituted and chaired in accordance with the course leading to the award sought. Its membership should include representative of the occupational sector, excluding staff of the applicant’s employing organisation. There must be a gender balance, and the AP(E)L adviser cannot be in a decision-making position, except in higher education where there can be an advocacy role.

The jury can decide to award a full award or recommend the areas of new learning required by the candidate. This extends the role of the jury beyond that of mere assessors, and this is key to the principle that there is no AP(E)L without a future learning plan. In this way, a guidance role is required, and the remit of the AP(E)L ‘accompanier’ includes monitoring and counselling the learners throughout their learning project toward the identified qualifications.

In this model there is a ‘weighing-up’ process where prior learning is matched against specific course modules, and a continuing professional development process. This combination of processes is regarded as more holistic and dynamic than the American or Anglo-Saxon models of AP(E)L where the emphasis has always been on current competence rather than capability and future development.


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