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

Author - Anne Murphy

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Part 1

Summary of Reports

Mapping AP(E)L in higher education in England 2002

The Executive Summary of the report defines AP(E)L as ‘the award of credit for learning based on experience…from work, community or volunteer experience…which has not previously been assessed and/or awarded credit’. This research was conducted by the Learning from Experience Trust (LET) and funded by the Department of Education and Enterprise (DfEE) to achieve the following specific aims:
(i) to provide accurate data on the extent of AP(E)L in higher education in England through survey research and case studies; and
(ii) to identify practices which would inform a cost-effective model of AP(E)L for large numbers of students across higher education.

The report was designed to inform policy on implementation of the new foundation degrees, flexible learning modes, widening access, work-based learning and the development of lifelong learning.

In terms of scale and methodology the research involved a two-stage survey distributed initially to identified key personnel in the colleges. A total of 107 higher-education institutions responded to the first stage of the survey (80%), and forty-two responded to the second phase (81%). From the respondents, ten colleges where AP(E)L provision is well established, were then selected for in-depth case studies, and 85 interviews were conducted for this purpose. Both the Northern Universities Consortium on Credit Accumulation and Transfer (NUCCATS) and the Southern England Consortium on Credit Accumulation and Transfer (SEEC) were consulted on the draft report before the final version was issued.

The survey found that the majority of higher educational institutions have AP(E)L policies in place at institutional or departmental level, or both, but that there is a gap between policy and practice. The adoption of AP(E)L policies did not mean that there were substantial numbers of students gaining AP(E)L credit. It was estimated that the numbers were under 100 students per year.

The growth in AP(E)L was found to be in continuing professional development courses, particularly for management level. One reason given is that such a sector is more likely to have the resources to pursue AP(E)L where there is a cost involved. Other reasons for the low take-up in AP(E)L include resistance by academic staff, lack of understanding of AP(E)L principles and processes, and the assumption that it is too time consuming. Additionally there was an expectation that AP(E)L applicants would prove learning achievement beyond that of students on taught courses where a 40% pass grade is traditional practice. With regard to administration, the general consensus was that AP(E)L is more costly than taught courses, and that it is sometimes a loss-leader for colleges anxious to widen participation.

The recommendations focus on changes to learning and teaching practices in higher education, including the following:

• active recruitment efforts utilising the potential for AP(E)L with groups of students sharing common experience
• increased visibility and clarity of information about AP(E)L availability
• guidance offered in cost-effective ways to groups of students, using new media, and making procedures more transparent
• a greater range of assessment tools and more streamlined assessment procedures emphasising evidence for learning (not experience), agreement on levels and volume of credit, and training for assessors.

The report further recommends that AP(E)L should be ‘scaled up’ with appropriate institutional structures, preferably centralised within the quality assurance arrangements for all provision, but devolved to departments for academic ownership and equity purposes.

The Mapping AP(E)L report clearly places AP(E)L within discussions about pedagogical practices, and regards it as a dimension of flexible approaches to learning. As with any major change in teaching and learning arrangements, AP(E)L requires information, training and resources supported by national policy.


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