Procedures for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

1. Definition of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

1.1 Queen’s University Belfast invites applications to its degree programmes from all prospective students who possess the ability, knowledge and experience required to benefit from them.  The University demonstrates its commitment to this aspiration through its widening participation schemes, its arrangements for credit accumulation and transfer, and the recognition of prior learning.  The University operates a RPL scheme which recognises relevant prior learning for admission and/or credit purposes.

1.2 Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is the generic term used for demonstrated learning that has occurred at some time in the past.  It encompasses:

  1. Recognition of Prior Certificated Learning (RPCL)

    The process through which previously formally assessed academic learning for which credit has been award is considered and, as appropriate, recognised for academic purposes.  This is also known as credit transfer where the credits were awarded by another Higher Education (HE) provider.

    There is a long history of accepting a number of qualifications for admission with Advanced Standing including HNDs and Foundation Degrees.  These are a form of RPCL but handled as part of the normal Admissions process and not subject to the procedures outlined below. However, applicants admitted with advanced standing are included in the annual report to Courses and Regulations Group.
  2. Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL)

    The process through which an applicant reflects on experiences on learning achieved outside education or training systems, which is assessed and, as appropriate, recognised for academic  purposes. 

1.3 The University recognises that some prospective students may not be able to evidence that they meet the University’s entry requirements though the accepted qualifications detailed in University publications, but they are able to provide substantial and relevant alternative evidence that they have the potential to succeed on their chosen programme.  This policy may be used in these circumstances and may be particularly applicable in the case of refugees or asylum seekers.


2. Key Principles of the University’s Scheme

2.1 RPCL may enable an applicant to: 

  1. gain admission to a programme and
  2. be awarded credit for a proportion of an undergraduate or postgraduate programme and therefore gain exemption from specified taught modules of the programme.

2.2 At undergraduate level, RPEL is used primarily to enable an applicant to be awarded credit for a proportion of a programme and therefore gain exemption from specified taught modules of the programme.

At postgraduate level, it is also used for this purpose and more commonly, for admission.  Prospective applicants should consult the entrance requirements within the University’s Course finder for information on whether admission under RPEL is permissible.

2.3 Credits are only awarded on the basis of evidence which is: 

  1. sufficient to determine that learning outcomes have been met.
  2. authentic to the work of the applicant.
  3. recent enough to imply current knowledge or capability, i.e. no more than 10 years old.  Lower limits may be set for particular subjects.  These will be found in the relevant Programme Specification.
  4. appropriate to the level and volume of credit being claimed.

2.4 When considering applications for admission or award of credit Schools may choose to apply more stringent criteria than those contained herein. There may also be some programmes which will not accept RPCL for exemption or RPEL for exemption/admission.

2.5 When awarding credit for prior learning, where appropriate, Schools will consider the requirements of professional, statutory and regulatory bodies.


3. General Guidelines

3.1 The Courses and Regulations Group (CRG) is responsible for the monitoring and development of the University’s policy and procedures with regard to RPL.

3.2 Schools are required to adhere to the principles and procedures laid down by CRG but may contextualise them e.g. by using case studies to assist applicants, or apply to CRG to vary the procedures.

3.3 It is the applicant’s responsibility to prepare an application and to submit adequate documentary evidence, including, as appropriate, certificates.

3.4 Those responsible for the admissions process will administer RPCL claims for admission with award of credit, made at the time of application.

3.5 Schools are required to establish a system for the receipt of claims and administration of RPEL claims, and also for RPCL claims for award of credit made after admission.  Normally this will be the responsibility of the Director of Education.

3.6 Schools will, where appropriate, nominate a member of staff as RPL Adviser.  The RPL Adviser will advise a student on the production and submission of an RPL claim.

3.7 Schools will, where appropriate, nominate specific member(s) of staff as RPL Assessor(s).  The RPL Assessor(s) should exercise academic judgement in assessing an RPL claim.  Where required, the RPL Assessor(s) will take advice from colleagues about the module(s) covered in the claim.                                           

3.8 The role of the RPL Adviser will be kept separate and distinct from the role of RPL Assessor where RPEL is concerned.  The RPL Adviser may act as RPL Assessor for RPCL claims.


4. The Award of Credit

4.1 Specific credit may be awarded where prior learning matches level, volume, content and the learning outcomes of a given module(s).

4.2 General credit may be awarded where prior learning is recognised to be of sufficient depth and quality as to be assigned a specific level and amount (i.e. a semester or year of a programme), but which cannot be matched to the subject content of specified module(s).

4.3 RPL credit is always ungraded and will not count towards final degree classification.

4.4 Credit will not normally be granted for any modules that have already contributed towards an award with the exception of Study Regulation 1.2.10 which states, “Subject to the agreement of the Head of School concerned (or their nominee), students who already have a primary degree, or equivalent qualification of this or another institution may be allowed some reduction in the 18 modules [i.e. 360 CATS] normally required. The maximum reduction that will be allowed is six modules [i.e. 120 CATS].”


5. Limitations to the Award of Credit

5.1 The minimum claim allowable under the RPL Scheme is equal to the relevant whole module (with the specified number of credit points) within any given programme.

5.2 The maximum RPCL credit which can normally be claimed for undergraduate programmes is equivalent to two years’ full-time study (240 credit points) at Level 1 and Level 2.

5.3 The maximum RPEL credit which can normally be claimed for undergraduate programmes is equivalent to 120 credit points at Level 1 and Level 2. Subject to programme regulations, credit may be awarded for experiential learning up to a maximum of 120 credit points on an undergraduate degree programme or up to one-third of the total credit required for an undergraduate certificate or diploma.

5.4 The maximum credit that can be claimed for postgraduate programmes is normally one-third of the total required for the programme.  Normally this will be:

  1. 20 credit points towards a Postgraduate Certificate.
  2. 40 credit points towards a Postgraduate Diploma.
  3. 60 credit points towards a Master’s degree.

5.5 These limits may be subject to School specific limitations and appropriate compatibility of the prior learning with the module for which exemption is sought and/or award applied for, which may have specific subject requirements.  Schools may apply to CRG via Academic Affairs, to have the maximum credit value considered for variation.


6. Instances where RPL credit cannot be awarded

6.1 RPL credit cannot be awarded for any module which comprises a major project or dissertation.

6.2 RPL credit cannot be awarded where professional, statutory and regulatory body requirements are not met.


7. Time Limit for the Process

7.1 The use of RPL does not alter the admissions process for the programme.  Deadlines for acceptance of an offer of a place will not be extended to accommodate the timing of RPL assessment decisions.

7.2 Once a full application documenting the claim has been received, the student will normally receive the decision within 20 working days. 


8. Responsibilities within the RPL Process

8.1 There are 3 key roles within the RPL procedure.  These are the Applicant, the RPL Adviser and the RPL Assessor.  Each has distinct responsibilities as outlined in sections 8, 9 and 10 below.

8.2 Each claim will be assessed on an individual basis.  Where claims are made for award of credit, they should be against whole modules or components of a programme.  Claims cannot be made against part modules.  However, at a School’s discretion, specific self-directed study may be suggested to enable an applicant to “top up” prior learning to the required level and volume in order to claim credit for the whole module.

8.3 The RPL Assessor will:

  1. identify the assessment criteria
  2. assess the evidence against the defined criteria
  3. recommend, record and report the outcome of the assessment process within the required time-scale.

8.4 An overview of the RPL Process can be found here.


9. Applications for Recognition of Prior Certificated Learning (RPCL)

9.1 An applicant for a full-time undergraduate degree programme requesting entry to a year other than the first year should at the point of application indicate their desired year of entry in the point of entry section on the UCAS form.  This request will be considered in conjunction with their application for admission.  Unless the qualification being offered has, in practice, been accepted for admission with Advanced Standing applicants will be asked to complete an RPL application.

9.2 All other requests for credit should be submitted on the RPL Application Form.

Where this is made prior to admission, it should be submitted at the same time as the application for entry.

9.3 The Applicant must, through the use of syllabi, programme descriptions, formal certificates, transcripts etc., demonstrate that through their certificated prior learning, they have achieved the learning outcomes of the relevant module(s) or of the level of the programme for which they are applying for exemption (9.5 refers).  The request should be submitted at the same time as the application for entry.

9.4 Evidence of prior certificated learning should normally be presented in the form of a portfolio.  The portfolio should contain written material which clearly demonstrates how the applicant’s prior learning is evidence of his/her achievement of the requisite module and/or programme learning outcomes.

9.5 The applicant must demonstrate through their certificated prior learning how they have achieved each of the learning outcomes of the required module(s), or level of the programme for which they are applying for exemption.

A typical portfolio should normally contain:

  1. The title of the programme for which they are applying, or on which they are registered.
  2. The relevant programme specification, transcripts, certificates and module descriptors for the certificated prior learning.
  3. The module(s) or elements of the programme from which exemption is being sought, with a clear indication of how the learning outcomes have been achieved through the certificated prior learning being claimed in (ii).

9.6 Applicants may be invited to attend for interview by the relevant School.

9.7 Once the RPL process is complete, any accompanying original documentation will be returned to the applicant. Applicants may be required to submit original documents on request or at registration.


10. Applications for Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) 

10.1 Potential applicants considering submitting a claim for admission or award of credit on the basis of RPEL only are required to discuss their intended claim with the RPL Advisor in the relevant School.

10.2 Applicants for RPEL should submit an RPL Application Formto the appropriate School. 

10.3 The applicant must demonstrate the coherence, balance and progression of their learning through critical reflection.  Appropriate sources of experiential learning may include: work experience, voluntary work, short course, or other relevant experiences.

10.4 Evidence of prior experiential learning should normally be presented in the form of a portfolio.  The portfolio should contain written material which clearly demonstrates how the student’s prior experience is evidence of his/her achievement of the requisite module(s) and/or programme learning outcomes.   

10.5 Where RPEL is being used for admission to a programme, the documented learning must be considered acceptable by the School in lieu of the normal entry criteria.  

A typical RPEL portfolio should contain:

  1. Cover sheet with the applicant’s name, the title of the programme they have applied to and the date of submission of the portfolio.
  2. Table of contents.
  3. Personal profile or full Curriculum Vitae.
  4. Employment History.
  5. Education and Training History.
  6. Training and Professional Qualifications.

and include the following sections:

  1. Introduction – setting the context of the claim in the overall academic and career plans of the student.
  2. Experience – an expansion on the CV or other significant life events including a description of experiences of informal learning activities e.g. conferences/workshops.
  3. Learning Account – an account of the learning that has resulted and reflections on what has been learned from the experience.
  4. Achievement – a clear statement of demonstrable behavioural change/performance resulting from the experiential learning.
  5. Currency – the University would normally expect the experience or qualifications to have been gained within the previous 10 years.  Some programme areas may have a shorter period than this.
  6. Relevance - the applicant should be able to demonstrate in detail that the learning for which a claim is being made is appropriate to the programme of study.
  7. Evidence of the achievement.
  8. Authenticity – evidence that the prior learning was completed by the applicant.
  9. Claim – this needs to be realistic and based on sound advice.

10.6 RPEL claims for exemption must also include in the portfolio the following:

  1. Full details of the module(s) or elements of the programme from which exemption is being sought including learning outcomes.
  2. A clear statement on how each learning outcome has been achieved through the experiential prior learning being claimed.

10.7 For additional or alternative requirements on how documented learning is to be presented, the applicant should consult with the relevant RPL Adviser.

10.8 Applicants may be invited to attend for interview by the relevant School.

10.9 Once the RPEL process is complete, the accompanying original documentation will be returned to the applicant. Applicants may be required to submit original documents on request or at registration.

10.10 It is the responsibility of the applicant to retain the original documentation and the RPEL claim portfolio, whilst they are completing their study as a student of the University.


11. The Assessment Decision

11.1 The assessment report will be based on whether:

  1. the level and volume of learning achieved is sufficient for RPL.
  2. the evidence is sufficient.
  3. the level and volume of learning achieved is appropriate.

11.2 In the case where the evidence in (ii) is insufficient an applicant may re-submit a claim and the RPL Adviser will provide guidance on additional requirements.

11.3 RPL assessment decisions regarding the award of credit will be verified by the Chair of the relevant Board of Examiners or nominee and reported to the Board of Examiners. 

11.4 RPL decisions made for admissions will be verified by the Head of School or nominee.


12. Appeals

12.1 There is no right of appeal except on grounds of procedural irregularity.

Information on the Undergraduate Admissions Appeals/Complaints Procedure can be found here.

Information on the Postgraduate Admissions Appeals/Complaints Procedure can be found here.


13. Payment of Fees

13.1 No charge will be made for RPL claims for admissions.

13.2 No charge for will be made for RPCL claims for exemption.

13.3 For RPEL claims for exemption a fee of 25% of the relevant module fee will be charged.


14. Record Keeping and Monitoring

14.1 All successful post-admission RPL claims and decisions will be reported to Student Services & Systems by the School.

14.2 RPL decisions made at the time of admission will be recorded on Qsis by the Admissions and Access Service or relevant School, as appropriate.

14.3 The CRG will consider an annual report on RPL provided by Student Services and Systems.


Glossary of Terms

Credit

An educational currency which provides a measure of learning achieved at a given level.

The term accreditation means the process by which credits are assigned to a module or programme.

General Credit

Credit which a student has been awarded for higher education courses which do not contribute to a specific degree or other qualification will also form part of the student’s record and will be listed on the student’s transcript.  Such credit points are designated as general credit.

Specific Credit

Specific credit gained must satisfy the requirements of the programme for that degree as set out in the Programme Specification.  Credit points which count towards a particular qualification are designated as specific credit.

All outcomes in the specified module must have been achieved to at least the level required in order to receive a pass by the standard method of assessment for that module.

If the previous learning claimed does not fully cover the content of the module it may be possible for the applicant to carry out some additional assessed learning to make up the difference.

Learning outcome

Clear statements of transferable knowledge, skills and attributes which an applicant can be expected to have gained on successful completion of a programme or element of a programme of study e.g. module.

Level

The standard of achievement reached on completion of the specific outcomes for which accreditation is being claimed. 

Module

A module is a component of a programme with its own approved aims and learning outcomes and assessment methods.  Modules are assigned a credit level and value. 

Programme

The term ‘programme’ is used rather than ‘course’. A programme of study is structured teaching and learning provision leading to one or more awards.