Recognition of prior learning practices at professional colleges

The legal basis for the recognition of prior learning exists in Switzerland. However, there is a lack of transparency as to how to put this into practice, especially at the tertiary level. This study examines how the recognition of prior learning (RPL) at professional education institutions is formally regulated and how it is concretely implemented and justified in practice. Recommendations for the promotion of RPL were derived from this.

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In a world of rapid technological and economic change, lifelong learning is increasingly important; both for workers who need to adapt to survive in the labour market as well as for people with upper secondary qualifications looking to improve themselves in order to fill empty positions in skilled labour sectors that lack workers. Since most learning processes take place outside the formal education system, it is important to recognize and, where appropriate, certify skills acquired through either non-formal (continuing education and training) or informal (experience) means.

In Switzerland, the necessary legal foundations for this already exist (VPETA, Art. 9, Para. 2). However, the recognition of prior learning (RPL) is not yet established in the entire education system. Professional education institutions have a great deal of room for manoeuvring. This contributes to the lack of transparency regarding the recognition of prior learning. So far, there has been little research on what prior learning outcomes are recognised and how, and for what reasons professional education institutionstake into account prior learning outcomes. These research gaps were addressed within the framework of this research project.

Goals of the project

The study examined the central question of how professional education institutions in Switzerland interpret and implement legal requirements and regulations for RPL. The RPL practice was empirically examined based on the current state of research on lifelong learning, recognition of prior learning and professional education institutions in Switzerland. In concrete terms, the following questions were answered:

  1. What is formally regulated with regard to RPL at professional education institutions?
  2. How is RPL at professional education institutions implemented within the defined operational framework?
  3. How is the RPL practice justified by professional education institutions?
  4. What are the differences between the professional education institutions (by subject area and language region) and how can they be interpreted?

The study used a mixed method design that includes document analysis, interview study, questionnaire survey and workshops. The workshops with selected CET providers and persons in charge for training programmes at professional education institutions primarily served to transfer knowledge and develop recommandations for CET providers and resposibles at professional education institutions.

In the first part, the framework curricula and study regulations for professional colleges were analysed with regard to the regulations concerning the prerequisites for admission and the criteria for RPL. Based on the results of the document analysis, the interviews were structured and guidelines for the qualitative part of the study are prepared.

In the second part, qualitative interviews were conducted with directors of professional education institutions in order to identify internal school procedures, RPL practices and the associated justifications.

In order to quantify the results of the interview study in the context of a full survey, in the third part a standardised questionnaire was constructed to record the RPL practices at professional education institutions and the associated justifications and a nationwide survey was conducted.

In the fourth part of the study, the results were discussed with selected CET providers and persons in charge for study programmes at professional education institutions and conclusions are then drawn for the training providers.

Practical benefits

The study contributes to the management and further development of  RPL practices at professional education institutions . The results also provide CET providers with important information on how they can improve their offers and better focus on formal qualifications.

Transfer into practice