Using Learning from Work for Progression to Higher Education: a degree of experience

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1 This article was downloaded by: [ ] On: 27 August 2015, At: 21:16 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: Registered office: 5 Howick Place, London, SW1P 1WG Journal of Vocational Education & Training Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Using Learning from Work for Progression to Higher Education: a degree of experience A. Paczuska a & J. Randall a a South Bank University, London, United Kingdom Published online: 11 Aug To cite this article: A. Paczuska & J. Randall (1996) Using Learning from Work for Progression to Higher Education: a degree of experience, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 48:4, , DOI: / To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content ) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at terms-and-conditions

2 Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol. 48, No. 4,1996 Using Learning from Work for Progression to Higher Education: a degree of experience Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 A. PACZUSKA & J. RANDALL South Bank University, London, United Kingdom ABSTRACT This paper outlines the Degree of Experience scheme, a pilot project at South Bank University, London, set up to develop ways of recruiting students to higher education on the basis of crediting learning from work and professional experience. The initiative took place in the context of setting up institution-wide systems for the assessment of prior learning (APL) at South Bank University. The paper describes initiatives for assessing learning from work in the School of Hospitality, Food and Product Management. These led to the development of a cross-university pilot scheme to promote recruitment through APL. The paper highlights how developing a policy can be a way of promoting staff development. Introduction The profile of the workforce is changing. The continuing decline in manufacturing alongside a growth in service industries calls for new skills. At the same time policy projections call for an increase in high level skills. This call is based on the assumption that long-term growth requires a more highly skilled workforce. There has been fierce criticism of the assumptions on which government training policy is based and in particular a questioning of the supposed level of demand for higher level skills by employers (Keep & Mayhew, 1994). Nevertheless, figures indicate there has been a broadening of skill requirements within many jobs across the economy and the general skills content within most jobs is increasing (Skills and Enterprise Network, 1995). The new workforce is supposed to be both mobile and flexible, and there is an increased 385

3 Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 A. PACZUSKA & J. RANDALL emphasis on transferable skills, skills which are common to more than one job and are portable across sectors. In this context, the assessment of prior learning (APL) is increasingly important. It is a process which potentially enables people to recognize their transferable skills and their prior learning from work, and use this as a basis for gaining entry to vocational courses in higher education. Learning from work may also be used for credit towards higher level academic awards in vocational areas. This paper describes how we tried to attract students to undergraduate and M-level courses in hotel management and product management by using their learning from work and professional experience as a bridge to formal study in higher education. The idea that people learn from their experiences, or at least sometimes they do, is not new. It underlies much custom and practice in admissions to higher education, particularly in the 'new' universities where staff have developed numerous formal and informal ways of assessing learning from experience to promote access for mature students lacking formal qualifications. Access courses routinely include assessing and evaluating prior learning as part of their curriculum and APL for entry or access to higher education could be described as bringing together elements of good practice which already exist on access courses (Paczuska, 1992). As well as assessing learning from experience for admission, many higher education courses in vocational areas also include established routes to degree level qualifications which incorporate 'exemptions' and 'advanced standing'. These are widely used in acknowledging the breadth of learning gained through professional body examinations, other vocational qualifications or learning from work. Whilst a diversity of practice exists, procedures are frequently informal, may be poorly documented, and implicit in admissions practice and in any credit awarded, rather then explicit. For the prospective student the process may be inaccessible unless they happen to come into contact with a particular individual tutor. For tutors and guidance workers who advise prospective students the details are also often unclear. A review of existing procedures at South Bank University (SBU), for example, found that while there were many initiatives for recognising learning from experience in some subject areas, such as health studies, it appeared that APL was available to some students on some courses and not on others [South Bank University, 1993]. Another problem we encountered was a confusion about the terms used to describe ways of assessing and accrediting prior learning. APL, the accreditation of prior certificated learning is often also referred to as 'transfer credit' and is awarded for learning which has been assessed and for which a certificate has been issued by a body recognised by the University. APEL is generally used to 'describe the recognition, 386

4 WORK AS A ROUTE TO HIGHER EDUCATION Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 assessment and accreditation of prior uncertificated (or experiental) learning. This process, which incorporates elements of reflection and reassessment of prior learning experiences, is often regarded as a useful learning process in itself (Butterworth, 1992). APL, however, is often used to mean both processes - the two are often closely connected and an APL claim may comprise both certificated and uncertificated learning. For us, this confusion about terminology meant staff often used similar terms, but used them to describe different processes. As a first step to providing a consistent approach enabling all prospective students to present their learning from work and other experiences for admissions and credit, a network of School APL coordinators was set up at South Bank, and each School was asked to review their provision and draft a policy for the use of APL in their area. The request was accompanied by a guidance note suggesting a common terminology and making a clear distinction between APL or 'fast track' credits for recognised qualifications, and APEL or credit for prior experiential learning. Developing a School Policy In common with the university as a whole, the School of Hospitality, Food and Product Management (HFPM) recognizes that many prospective students have acquired the skills necessary for success on a degree course through work or other life experiences, without achieving formal academic qualifications. In the past, this was recognised largely on an ad hoc basis. Course directors exempted students from units on a degree in areas corresponding to their experience. Students only became aware of this process if they asked and often found out about it too late to benefit their applications. It was generally believed, however, that there is potential for using and crediting prior learning from experience in areas like Hotel Management, where many existing students are mature entrants with previous experience of working in the industry. This same belief informed thinking about a proposed new MSc in Product Management and development work for the course included investigating possible uses of APL. Research findings based on responses to questionnaires sent to 100 firms working in the Product Management field showed positive responses to the idea of formally recognising and crediting learning acquired through professional experience in the industry as a basis for entry to the MSc (TPosner, 1993). During 1994, the School APL policy for recognising and crediting learning from experience was developed for all courses and awards offered by the School in line with University policy. The problems of organising busy (and overworked) staff to attend formal training about APL, however, required an alternative to the idea of staff training 'sessions'. The search for a way of informing staff about the issue led to 387

5 A. PACZUSKA & J. RANDALL Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 the idea of viewing the development of APL policy as a staff development activity in itself. This approach provided a way of extending awareness of APL issues and possibilities beyond just those staff concerned with writing policy documents. The process focused on activities organised by the School APL coordinator. These included consultation between the School APL coordinator and the University APL coordinator to determine how best to use the exercise to raise awareness of APL, discussion, and consultation with course directors and admissions tutors within the School, to determine current provision and possibilities for future developments, as well as consultation and liaison with the Head of School. Development and planning of policy came from the process of looking at APL in.relation to the specific courses offered in the School. The resulting School APL Policy was the first to be developed at South Bank and was subsequently used as a model by other Schools for developing their own policies. This provoked discussion between APL coordinators in different Schools. The process of learning about APL through the experience of discussing and developing policy also created motivation, enthusiasm and commitment from a nucleus of staff within the School, and led to greater understanding of the underlying issues. Discussion of HFPM School specific initiatives and interest from other vocational areas eventually grew into a proposal for the Degree of Experience scheme. A Degree of Experience The scheme was largely a result of discussion about using APL to promote recruitment to the MSc Product Management and involved staff from a number of different vocational areas. It was argued that many potential applicants have gained skills through learning from work which provide sufficient basis for entry to University and particularly to vocational courses at M-level. The initial aim was to identify a general approach which would be both flexible in enabling broader entry to vocational courses and at the same time rigorous in ensuring that though students may lack formal qualifications, they have the qualities necessary for success on the course on entry. We organised 'workshop' sessions for staff where we worked to develop entry criteria which would fulfil these requirements and, in particular, which could be used to: assess relevant subject knowledge and skills gained through learning from work; match student subject knowledge, skills and abilities against entry criteria detailing qualities needed for success on the course; 388

6 WORK AS A ROUTE TO HIGHER EDUCATION Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 identify where students have the necessary qualities for progression, and also focus on areas of learning need where skills or knowledge for entry are lacking; provide a facility for 'top up' learning, and making good mismatches between student skills and abilities, and entry criteria to provide an opportunity for progression if students are prepared to undertake appropriate work prior to entry; provide an opportunity for admission if entry criteria are fulfilled at a later stage, even if there were gaps when the candidate first applied. Although this model contains elements of approaches already employed in admitting students who lack formal qualifications, we felt there were advantages over existing approaches: The criteria on which admissions are based for candidates who lack formal qualifications are made explicit (and written down). Candidates can know in advance what the criteria are and how the procedure works. The whole process is 'visible'. The use of APL to accurately profile students skills and abilities against entry criteria provides a generic approach which enables staff to diagnose weaknesses and offer students the opportunity to 'make good' prior to commencing a course, The introduction of explicit APL procedures and specific criteria for entry stated in terms of skills, ability and knowledge rather than qualifications, lays the basis for offering all prospective students the opportunity to claim academic credit for learning from work. Suitably experienced candidates are offered the possibility of cutting down study time 'on course'. Such provision is likely to be shaped by the specific award to which it relates, to its admissions and assessment systems. Publicly advertising APL as an entry route to named courses encourages all staff on those courses to acquire a knowledge of the APL process rather than leaving it to 'experts'. This lays the basis for 'integrating' APL into admissions procedures rather than keeping the process separate and mystical. Issues Although the Degree of Experience scheme arose from an interest in promoting APL, the participation of the University's Study Resources Coordinator was also central to the development. This not only brought a fresh approach to the development of entry criteria, but more importantly, perhaps, helped us to link the issues of identifying learning need with the process of devising ways of assessing whether prospective students fulfilled the entry criteria we had devised. This enabled us to 389

7 Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 A. PACZUSKA & J. RANDALL integrate the APL process with facilities for 'top up' learning in a single scheme. The Degree of Experience scheme began recruiting in the spring term and the first applicants accessed the University in the autumn of Although the scheme was designed to run for one year only initially, one School (Construction) has already decided to continue it for themselves. Initial recruitment overall has been modest, but the benefits of developing a scheme to promote progression to higher education on the basis of learning from work are not confined to recruitment. The Degree of Experience pilot is, indeed, a basis for evaluating whether making provision for recognising learning from work in this way can be effective in promoting recruitment. It also: lays the basis for establishing a general approach to diagnosis of student weakness pre-entry and enabling 'top-up' learning before starting a course of study; develops the basis for a 'visible' general approach to crediting learning from work against a variety of vocational awards as a basis for cutting down study time on course; helps to establish APL as a direct route to qualifications at M-level. Conclusions Discussion of APL in higher education often centres round the educational advantages and disadvantages of different models of APL. Butterworth (1992) compares and contrasts 'developmental' and 'credit exchange' models of APL. Categorizing APL in this way is useful in giving an idea of the breadth of different possible approaches and is an important factor to bear in mind when planning to develop a cross-institutional approach. At South Bank we were concerned to use this awareness that different approaches to APL are possible, to agree use of terminology and work towards a consistency of approach across the University. We also wanted to extend staff awareness of the recruitment possibilities offered by taking a positive view of APL. Rumpus & Williams (1993) give an account of the issues they encountered in developing an institutional approach to implementing APL in higher education and in particular mention staff development issues and staff concern about how time consuming APL procedures can be. Our approach was to develop procedures which can be reviewed and monitored centrally, to ensure quality, but which can be integrated into individual subject area admissions procedures to streamline the process and make it less time consuming. The subject specific approaches developed as a result have been useful in promoting staff development 390

8 Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 WORK AS A ROUTE TO HIGHER EDUCATION and have also helped transfer APL awareness and activity to staff across different vocational areas. Learning from experience has always been acknowledged as a valuable aspect of learning, but the development of formal systems to recognize and credit learning from experience in academic courses has arisen in a specific economic context which highlights the potential of prior learning. The economic need for retraining and acquiring broader and higher level transferable skills puts a premium on processes, such as APL, which recognise the transferability of existing skills and promote progression to retraining and further training. Linking APL development to vocational provision through a 'learning by doing' approach to staff development places the process in a practical context of adapting to change in higher education. Developments are influenced by practical as well as theoretical considerations about the nature of learning. Our work to develop institutional systems for APL which can be monitored centrally, but can also accommodate the needs of different subject areas, shows how staff can become committed to recognising learning from work as an integral part of recruiting to and developing vocational course provision, rather than seeing APL as a costly and time-consuming 'extra'. Correspondence Anna Paczuska, Recruitment Office, South Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 OAA, United Kingdom. References Butterworth, C. (1992) More than One Bite at the APEL: contrasting models of accrediting prior learning, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 16(3), pp Keep, E. & Mayhew, K. (1994) UK Training Policy - assumptions and reality, VET Open Lecture paper. London: Institute of Education Post-16 Centre. Paczuska, A. (1992) APEL for Access to Science and Technology, in J. Mulligan & C. Griffin (Eds) Empowerment Through Experimental Learning. London: Kogan Page. Posner, S. (1993) A proposal for the use of APL for assessing the capability of mature non-traditional entry students to undertake MSc Product Management, Coursework Submission for Assessment and Accredition of Prior Learning Unit, MA Education. London: South Bank University. Rumpus, A. & Williams, A. (1993) An Institutional Approach to APEL, in J. Storan (Ed.) Getting to the Core of APEL Bedford: South East England Consortium for Credit Accumulation and Transfer. Skills and Enterprise Network (1994) Labour Market and Skill Trends. Nottingham: Department of Employment. 391

9 Downloaded by [ ] at 21:16 27 August 2015 A. PACZUSKA & J. RANDALL South Bank University (SBU) (1993) Accreditation Panel APL Annual Review. London: South Bank University. 392

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