Where does AP(E)L fit in Higher Education?
Summary of Reports
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
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
• 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.