Assessment of the recognition of prior learning in vocational education and training (VET)

In May 2019, the Federal Council adopted measures aimed to enhance the potential of the domestic labour force. This study focussed on Measure 4 'Recognition of prior learning (RPL)', which was implemented by SERI in cooperation with the cantons. The aim of the study was to provide a nationwide assessment of implementation of the recognition of prior learning in VET in the year 2020.

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The aim of this study was to assess the current recognition of prior learning practices in VET in all Swiss cantons in the year 2020. The results of this study served as an important basis for the further development and elaboration of tools and processes used to recognise adult prior learning.

Recognition of prior learning is understood as a process that already begins in the counselling phase, i.e. before an adult decides on a suitable path towards a formal vocational qualification (SERI, 2018a, 2018b). The ‘recognition of prior learning’ should therefore not be confused with the ‘validation of prior learning’. In Switzerland, the latter falls under the category of 'other qualification procedure' in VET programmes and is recognised by SERI by virtue of Art. 33 'Examinations and other qualification procedures' of the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act, VPETA.

Specifically, the following questions were addressed in this study:

  1. What recognition of prior learning practices do we find in Swiss cantons (i.e. admission, dispensation, direct access to the qualification procedure)? For each recognition of prior learning practice, we will ask how prevalent it is.
  2. What tools are used by the cantons for the recognition of prior learning in VET?
  3. Are there established processes and methods for the recognition of prior learning, and how are these designed?
  4. From the perspective of the cantons, what are the biggest challenges in implementing the recognition of prior learning?

In order to answer the questions described above, the study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase of the study, a standardised online questionnaire was prepared and sent to all Swiss cantons. This questionnaire enabled the collection of data on the implementation of recognition of prior learning in VET. In the second phase of the study, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted in individual cantons.


This overview shows the recognition of prior learning situation in the cantons at the time of the data collection. The results show that the form and frequency of RPL vary considerably from one canton to canton. Of the various forms of RPL, only the shortening of VET programmes is implemented in all cantons. There are also major differences in the criteria, processes and methods used to make RPL decisions in the cantons. While in some cantons RPL decisions are made on the basis of set criteria, in other cantons these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Some cantons only assess RPL portfolios submitted online, while in other cantons candidates are asked to come in for a personal interview. As a result, the degree of standardisation of RPL decisions varies considerably.

The cantons face many challenges when it comes to implementing RPL procedures. The most frequently mentioned challenge is ensuring equal treatment and adopting harmonised procedures, not only across all cantons, but also within the same canton.  The recognition of non-formal and informal learning is also a major challenge, as these often do not clearly match the training objectives of the occupation in question. This makes clarification of recognition complex and time-consuming. The fact that cantons use different procedures and tools for this purpose makes equal treatment across cantonal borders even more difficult. In addition, when cantonal education offices and counselling centres work together, clarifying who is responsible for what is a challenge.

The cantons consider that the harmonisation of equal treatment measures at both cantonal and intercantonal level is a particularly useful way to address these challenges. Such measures might include, among other things, standardised tools for RPL, a standardised procedure for the implementation of RPL processes, regular interaction between all of the stakeholders involved in the review and decision-making process, and clarification of responsibilities.