RPL assesses an individual’s non-formal and informal learning to determine how far they have achieved the required learning or competency outcomes (UNEVOC/NCVER, 2009).
NQFs define ‘all nationally recognized qualifications in higher education in terms of workload, level, quality, learning outcomes and profiles’ (UNESCO, 2007:67).
According to an international survey conducted among UNESCO Member States in 2019, 54 out of the 75 countries which responded indicated that they already have NQFs for the higher education and vocational education sectors. In over 30 responding countries, NQFs also include further/adult education and occupational standards. Only in 20 countries, however, do they include non-formal and informal learning. Similarly, RPL approaches as applied to skills acquired in informal settings remain an unpopular practice across higher education systems: they are used by fewer than 30 of the responding countries.
Most countries rely on secondary school leaving examinations or national admissions tests to determine entry to bachelor’s level programmes. However, as individual institutions and even entire higher education systems are struggling to organize leaving exams or admissions tests because of COVID-19, there is a real opportunity for RPL to become established as an accepted pathway into higher education. To this end, NQFs would serve as a reference point for the recognition of non-formal and informal learning, allowing access into different programmes and levels of study based on their comparability in terms of learning outcomes, subject content, and competencies.
- The Malaysian Qualifications Agency has successfully introduced the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APEL) system to provide access to higher education programmes and enable academic recognition of learning acquired in non-formal and informal settings. APEL can be used as a pathway for access to and credit transfer across various levels of qualifications set under the Malaysian Qualifications Framework. The framework covers national qualifications in the skills, vocational and technical, and academic sectors. Through APEL-A, students can access bachelor’s and master’s level programmes, diplomas, and certificate learning.
- In South Africa, policies and criteria for RPL have been developed by the South Africa Qualifications Authority. The RPL system is designed to evaluate learning obtained in non-formal, informal, and formal contexts against learning outcomes described in the NQF. The system allows access to academic and professional qualifications across the higher education, further education, and training and occupations sectors.
- In Finland, national regulations ensure students’ rights to have their studies recognized at all levels of education and across different sectors. Students can, for example, attend open courses (daytime, evening, weekend, online) organized by HEIs across Finland. These courses do not have admission requirements and do not lead to a qualification, but credits are awarded which can be counted towards a degree at the HEI in question, if a student is planning to enrol.