Policy development and implementation procedures for recognition of prior learning: a case study of practice in higher education
The institutional context
The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is a large, urban college which achieved legal status and awarding powers in 1992 through amalgamation of six long-established colleges, some of which had over a century’s tradition of education provision in professional and work-related fields, including apprentice and craft training. This history invariably enabled the development of progression pathways and professional development arrangements, which could, in retrospect, be described as recognition of prior learning (RPL) systems. Like many other providers in the 1990s, the DIT developed draft policies for accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) following models of practice in the United States and the United Kingdom and had its own systems for determining equivalence of awards and qualifications. However, the draft APEL policy was not formalised at the time, possibly because of the more pressing issue of accommodating the rapidly expanding numbers of school-leavers progressing to higher education. Procedurally APEL was regarded as time-consuming and individualistic, and indeed it was under-theorised and overly-technicist at that time. Nor were the technologies of qualifications frameworks such as levels of learning, modules, credits systems, or agreed definitions of learning outcomes widely available to facilitate scaled-up, sustainable RPL systems. However, the scholarship of APEL was developing over the 1990s supported by national and EU-funded research projects, by the research and publications of individual academics, and by the Irish APEL Network for Higher Education which was active for the years before the development of the national framework. This supportive ‘local’ environment with its pockets of indigenous RPL expertise made the wider development of RPL relatively easy in more recent years.
The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) was established in 2001 and the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) approved in 2003. Also in 2003 a policy document related to access, transfer and progression of learners invariably led to the development of an RPL policy document in 2005 with a statutory obligation on all providers of education and training to develop and publish its RPL policy and to implement that policy. The case study in this article begins at that point in time and describes RPL policy development actions and implementation activities in the DIT up to 2010.
(see Table 1)