Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) on Entry to UK Degree Apprenticeship Programmes: Potential and Problems

Gardner, Christine (2022). Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) on Entry to UK Degree Apprenticeship Programmes: Potential and Problems. In: EADTU Innovating Higher Education Conference 2022, 19-21 Oct 2022, Athens, Greece.


When considering degree apprenticeships, Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) has the potential to provide an accessible entry route into higher education (HE). However, there is evidence to suggest that offering RPEL on entry to degree programmes is far from simple to accomplish (Peters, 2006; Singh and Ehlers, 2019 ). As higher education institutions tend to have established definitions of knowledge and what is valued in learning (Valk, 2009), questions arise regarding how RPEL is offered, and whether there is sufficient incentive and support for apprentices to consider an RPEL entry route.

The approach taken to the research is predominantly a qualitative ethnographic case study. Initial data collection took the form of review of UK apprenticeship policy documentation and RPEL guides. A series of interviews with those involved in putting RPEL policy into practice, involving both academic and academic-related staff, gave further insight into the RPEL processes. The final phase engaged the apprentices themselves in order to gain further insight into their experiences of RPEL. Data were analysed using thematic analysis, in order to build a rich narrative from multiple perspectives.

Initial findings suggest that RPEL can be more problematic than RPCL (Recognition of Prior Credited Learning) to implement when trying to bridge the gap between academic study and what has already been learned in the workplace. It can be difficult to determine how a varied range of prior learning can best be matched to relatively large academic modules. Verification for RPEL can also be extremely challenging. However, RPEL has the potential to save apprentices time and effort by appreciating the skills they have developed in the workplace. The is the potential to incorporate Short Learning Programmes (SLPs)into degree apprenticeship programmes as they can be adaptable to learner and employer requirements (Dunn, 2019). Recognition could be gained via short microcredentials, providing a flexible route within formal degree education. (Cedefop, 2017; MOONLITE, 2020).

The research has the potential to contribute to professional practice by uncovering the reality of degree apprentice RPEL opportunities and barriers by hearing the voices of the stakeholders involved in the process. Ultimately, the aim is to create opportunities to move towards an inclusive model of recognising prior experiential learning in the arena of degree apprenticeships.

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