R. Borup1, H. Shah2

1Staffordshitre University (UNITED KINGDOM)
2Birmingham City University (UNITED KINGDOM)
This paper sets out to describe how recognition of prior learning (RPL) is applied to one non-traditional type of learner, i.e. part time (PT) students engaged in work based learning (WBL). These students typically have many years of experience in work related to their area of study, and it is common for them to seek credit exemption through RPL.
Although each Higher Education Institution (HEI) will almost certainly have a standard RPL policy, programme managers are often left to devise their own methods for applying RPL, with little opportunity to reflect on and share best practice across the institution. This paper will compare the application of an RPL policy, and the RPL decisions made, for PT WBL students, across 4 faculties in one UK University, each faculty having substantial numbers of WBL students. From this research observations and recommendations are made which aim to improve institutional understanding of RPL, and help academics engaged in writing and applying RPL policy.

There is a substantial body of literature on the subject of RPL. However, the main themes have been focused on student experience of the RPL process (Sandberg, 2012, Singh, 2011), RPL within the context of Lifelong Learning (Frick, 2011) Proposing methodologies for applying RPL (Rusakova, 2010) Identifying the barriers to RPL (Singh 20011) and developing tools for the application of RPL (Mina et al, 2011)

The research method included interviews and focus groups with academic staff in 4 faculties with substantial numbers of WBL, within one UK University. The subject areas represented are Business, Arts Media and Design, Health , Computing and Engineering. The staff interviewed have responsibility for applying RPL and making RPL decisions for WBLs. A senior manager from the HEI executive was also interviewed for the strategic view of RPL and its inclusion in the strategic plan. This was followed by a critical analysis of the data (including MIS data analysis, and one RPL case study/data set from each faculty) with identification of main findings, and recommendations for best practice.

This research has found that while increasing WBL participation and RPL are both accepted as being of strategic importance to the HE agenda, a standard RPL policy has limitations in regards to RPL for WBL. Moreover there is scope for inconsistency in the application of the RPL process, even within one institution, across faculties and subject areas. This research finds that there is opportunity for identifying and sharing best practice, to improve institutional understanding of RPL, and to inform academics engaged in writing and applying RPL policy.

Few studies have investigated the application of a standard RPL policy to a specific type of learner i.e. PT WBL, within a single institution, across faculties and subject areas, and by so doing to identify and promote best practice. This research aims to promote more effective use of RPL as a tool to encourage WBL participation in HE.