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

Author - Anne Murphy

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TRANSFINE Project Final Report 2003

The TRANSFINE research project 2002–2003 was funded under the EU Joint Action Initiative. The main aim was to consult widely on real-world practice towards the development of a consensus on key principles which would form the basis of a European ‘architecture’ and common tools for systems of transfer between informal, non-formal and formal education.

In scale and methodology, there were three discrete phases to the research. The first phase involved the formation of inner and outer circles of experts. The inner circle was composed mainly of academics with an extensive knowledge of AP(E)L in their own countries – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Estonia, France, Italy, Norway, Germany and Switzerland – who compiled research reports based on data collected from the results of responses to a common questionnaire. These country reports formed the basis of phase two of the research, which was centred around a consultation seminar in the University of Lille in April 2003 involving the outer circle of sixty experts from nineteen countries, drawn from vocational education, adult education, the youth sector and a number of Grundtvig and Leonardo projects, as well as higher education.

The final phase was the presentation of key results of the TRANSFINE research at the EUCEN conference in Brno, the Czech Republic, in May 2003. This phase also involved the production of a synthesised report on the entire project and the presentation of key principles and tools which could form the basis of a practical architecture for articulation between formal, informal and non-formal education.

The TRANSFINE research was extended to a follow-up stage of development called REFINE (January 2004 to December 2006) which aims to test the principles and tools recommended in the final report from TRANSFINE, with seventeen partners across twelve countries. With regard to the findings of the TRANSFINE research 2002 using the common questionnaire, the summary offered in the Final Report (p. 28) is as follows:
The responses were generally very positive. There was a willingness and interest in experimentation and in collaboration and co-operation; and clearly support from Ministries. However, considerable obstacles were foreseen, in particular the wide variation in existing policy and practice, the clash of educational cultures, suspicion, lack of trust and competition between institutions, the widespread ignorance about the idea of recognition, and legal constraints in some countries. There was also a considerable fear of heavy technicist systems.

From the EUCEN conference 2004, key issues and challenges for the university sector regarding AP(E)L were summarised in the Final Report (p. 33) as follows:

• the shift from an input to an outcome model of learning
• curriculum structure and examinations
• what makes a university diploma if the learning has taken place elsewhere?
• tools and procedures – lack of confidence and currency
• new skills and competences for assessors and counsellors
• quality and legitimacy – social value as well as individual added value
• cost and payment – financing of higher education acts as an incentive in some countries and a disincentive in others

In the report’s recommendations the following are prioritised.

• AP(E)L/RPL should be contextualised in the wider issues of the Bologna and Copenhagen processes, and in the debates about lifelong learning in a knowledge society, as it impacts on social and institutional values and challenges the role of higher education itself
• an inclusive approach is required to accommodate the varied policies, mechanisms and practices already in place
• existing tools and mechanisms should be built on rather than new ones being developed
• AP(E)L/RPL ‘language’ should be commonly understood across countries
• a common framework with credibility and legitimacy needs a set of common, agreed principles
• the individual should be at the heart of the system
• comprehensive information, advice and guidance is essential
• common tools should be used across the EU
• common credit systems for VET and HE are required
• quality assurance for providers, including training and support for staff, is essential
• flexible and holistic RPL systems for recognition of prior knowledge and competence need to be tested and evaluated, towards agreement on common approaches across Europe.

The key findings and recommendations of the TRANSFINE research are being progressed in the REFINE project, with emphasis on testing the tools for a Europe-wide methodological framework in a trans-national, trans-sectoral collaboration. The target group for such RPL tool testing are experienced practitioners, managers and policy makers with no (or few) formal qualifications but with extensive skills and knowledge acquired outside the academy. Results of the project are expected to be disseminated at a conference in Autumn 2005.

The summary of AP(E)L in the UK (p. 22) includes a list of its strengths and weakness as follows:

The main strengths of existing UK AP(E)L systems are seen as: rigorous, transparent assessment procedures, its position as part of mainstream and therefore subject to broader institutional regulations. AP(E)L is seen as part of a broader set of strategies to widen access to and participation in lifelong learning opportunities.

The main weaknesses of AP(E)L systems are seen as: over bureaucratic and resource hungry arrangements, a lack of credibility for some, often a marginal activity, the absence of a unified credit framework, staff resistance as AP(E)L is seen to be a threat to ‘normal’ entry requirements.


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