Policy development and implementation procedures for recognition of prior learning: a case study of practice in higher education
The consultation and consensus-building process
The process of developing RPL policy was based on broad principles of sustainable development including identifying existing good practices, consulting all stakeholders, subsidiarity to local management level where possible, and a ‘light touch’ approach to implementation guidelines with appropriate flexibility to accommodate diversity in epistemologies and professional practices without undermining trust and confidence in DIT awards. Before starting to consult staff formally, an RPL mapping exercise was undertaken.
The stakeholder mapping exercise identified the academic staff groups and operational functions with degrees of interest and involvement in RPL policy development and the external stakeholders upon whom that policy could impact. In Figure 1 the likely degree of involvement of external stakeholders is indicated by the size of arrow.
Likewise a mapping exercise to illustrate internal colleagues likely to have a need for an RPL function confirmed that RPL has a range of applications across the business of the Institute and that several staff groups and units would require briefing and training. Again, the degree of involvement is illustrated by the weighting of the arrows, as illustrated in Figure 2.
A series of interviews and focus group sessions were held to establish existing practices and preferences for future policy development. There was remarkably little divergence of opinion except for an expressed unease about the possibility of achieving of a full Institute award on the basis of RPL. This unease was taken into consideration in the draft and final RPL policy document with limitations placed on the nature of the prior learning presented for a DIT award at the final stage.
The mapping exercise itself was useful in deciding if RPL was to be considered a marginal, peripheral activity managed in a discrete office or unit, or if it was to be embedded in all aspects of business of the Institute. The decision in this regard was that RPL as an academic activity was to be delegated to School level with quality assurance oversight at Faculty level subject to quality assurance policy agreed by Academic Council. This was a fundamental decision in relation to the agreed national principles, and in relation to the resources required for full implementation of agreed policy. It was also significant that RPL was firmly thus regarded as an academic activity related to standards of the Institute’s awards and not an administrative procedure removed for the normal academic business of teaching, learning, assessment scholarship and research. Additionally it was not to be regarded as a marketing device, or a recruitment and admissions procedure where the assessment element is separated from the academic domain.