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Recognition of Prior Learning


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This comparative study based on policy documents and statistical data analyses how the implementation of Recognition of Prior Learning policy designs has developed in two contrasting contexts (cases), Denmark and India, using the conceptual formulations of Ehlers’ Box Model (2005), the Integrated Implementation Model (Winter, 2012), and Policy Instruments (Vedung, 1998). As requirements for effective policy implementation, the authors argue for the involvement of all stakeholders, ownership and accountability by stakeholders leading to effectiveness in the short run and policy evolution in the long run, and the use of an appropriate mix of policy instruments.
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Andragoška spoznanja/Studies in Adult Education and Learning, 2019, 25(1), 69-87
UDK: 377
Scientific article
Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers
This comparative study based on policy documents and statistical data analyses how the implementa-
tion of Recognition of Prior Learning policy designs has developed in two contrasting contexts (cases),
Denmark and India, using the conceptual formulations of Ehlers’ Box Model (2005), the Integrated
Implementation Model (Winter, 2012), and Policy Instruments (Vedung, 1998). As requirements for ef-
fective policy implementation, the authors argue for the involvement of all stakeholders, ownership and
accountability by stakeholders leading to effectiveness in the short run and policy evolution in the long
run, and the use of an appropriate mix of policy instruments.
Keywords: recognition/validation/accreditation of prior learning, employability, inclusion, Denmark,
Primerjalna študija temelji na analizi dokumentov o politiki priznavanja predhodno pridobljenih znanj
ter statističnih podatkih o rabi in izvedbi te politike v dveh različnih kontekstih (primerih): na Danskem
in v Indiji. Uporabljene so pojmovne formulacije Ehlersovega modela (2005), modela integriranega
izvajanja (Winter, 2012) in instrumentov politike (Vedung, 1998). Pogoji za učinkovito izvajanje politike
so vključenost vseh nosilcev interesov, prizadevanja in odgovornost nosilcev interesov, ki kratkoročno
vodijo do učinkovitosti in dolgoročno do razvoja politike, ter raba primerne kombinacije instrumentov
Ključne besede: priznavanje predhodno pridobljenih znanj, zaposljivost, vključevanje, Danska, Indija
Shalini Singh, PhD Student, International Institute of Adult and Lifelong Education and Julius Maximi-
lian University of Würzburg,
Søren Ehlers, PhD, Prof., Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg,
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The International Labour Organisation (ILO),1 the European Union (EU), and the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have been pushing
the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)2 through guidelines for the development of na-
tional RPL policies (ILO, 2004; European Council, 2012; UNESCO, 2012). RPL was pro-
moted as a social policy tool in 1972 to create “learning opportunities for the under-priv-
ileged” (UNESCO, 1972, p. 41). In 1995 the European Commission (EC) portrayed it as
an economic policy tool for promoting employability for all (EC, 1995). Several countries
have adopted RPL since it is regarded as a win-win policy for all stakeholders: adults
seeking RPL, providers offering RPL, employers needing certified human resources, un-
ions aligned with the interests of any of these stakeholders, and the state, which is respon-
sible for citizen welfare and the economy.
The paper is divided into eight sections. Section 1 explains why RPL has become a policy
tool for the development of employability and formulates a research question. The con-
ceptual framework is described in Sections 2 and 3 with formulations by Ehlers (2005)
about three ideal types of RPL policy design, and by Winter (2012) about a general mod-
el for policy implementation. A description of supplementary conceptualisations of ad-
ministrative principles by Winter and Nielsen (2010) in Market, Hierarchy and Network,
and policy instruments by Vedung (1998) in Carrots, Sticks and Sermons is included. In
Section 4, RPL is discussed as a policy design for employment policy. Section 5 and 6
demonstrate the development of national policy designs in Denmark and India. A com-
parison and discussion of RPL in Denmark and India are included in Section 7, and Sec-
tion 8 comprises the conclusion. The methodology includes case studies of Denmark and
India using policy documents and statistical data, followed by the comparison of the two
cases. Ehlers’ Box Model, the Integrated Implementation Model and Policy Instruments
are used as conceptual formulations.
Lack of employability is a major global challenge leading to various socio-economic
problems and political unrest. The high number of unemployed people, youth popula-
tion in NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), immigrants and refugees,
and those employed in the informal (unorganised) sector need pathways for livelihood
and opportunities for further economic growth (Box 1). Marginalised populations are
excluded from the mainstream development process and their cultural identity is often at
risk because their knowledge, skills and competencies are rooted in indigenous cultures
comprising the sustainable component of their identity. Those who migrate from one
country to another might possess knowledge, skills and competencies that are relevant
1 Led by social partners.
2 In this article, recognition, validation or accreditation of prior learning are considered to be synonymous
policy terms and RPL is used as a common term to represent all of them.
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71Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
but not recognised in destination countries. Their knowledge, skills and competencies
gained informally or non-formally, equipping them for better opportunities of livelihood
and inclusion, cannot be materialised effectively without formal certification. Their inte-
gration in the mainstream development process becomes difficult and they become social
costs rather than productive human resources. While at the macro level, this accentuates
the skills gap, hampers productivity and reduces overall gross domestic product (GDP),
at the micro level, it hinders the process of inclusion of individuals in society by keeping
their earnings low, limiting their rights, and obstructing their social inclusion.
Estimation of prior learning can boost economic growth, pull many out of socio-econom-
ic problems, enhance their social integration, and decrease some of the possibilities for
political unrest. Apart from that, dynamic labour markets that render much of the existing
knowledge, skills and competencies obsolete and frequently create the need for new ones
also demand the constant upgrading and recognition of learning in all kinds of settings as
and when the demand for them arises.
Box 1: Statistics regarding lack of employability
5.6% (192 million) of the global population is unemployed (2018)
7.3% of the population in the EU is unemployed (2018)
10% males and 34% females (15–24 years) globally are neither in employment, educa-
tion or training (NEET) (2017)
53% of South Asian females are in the NEET category (2018)
17.2% (15.8 million) amounting to one fifth of Young Europeans (15–34 years) are in the
NEET category (2017)
258 million people are immigrants and 25.4 million people are refugees across the globe
85% of refugees live in low- and middle-income countries outside of Europe (2018)
22 million immigrants lived in Europe in 2017
More than 90% of the labour force in Micro and Small Enterprises and more than half of
the global labour force is employed in the informal/unorganised sector with limited work-
place rights and facilities (2018).
Sources: Eurostat, 2018a, 2018b; ILO, 2018a, p. 2; 2018b; 2018c; 2018d; United Nations High Commis-
sioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2018.
Owing to the huge skill gap in the labour market and poor learning outcomes from educa-
tion systems all over the world, RPL appears as a quick solution for promoting employabil-
ity. It can provide better career opportunities, motivate the beneficiaries towards learning
more, promote mobility, enhance inclusion and increase productivity. Keeping in mind the
relevance of contextual factors, in this paper, RPL is analysed as a policy tool for promoting
employability in two contexts, Denmark and India. The comparison is based on the ques-
tion: How have RPL policy designs been developed and implemented in different contexts?
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Winter’s (2012) Integrated Implementation Model and Ehlers’ (2005) formulation of
three ideal types of RPL policy design provide a conceptual framework for understanding
the development and implementation of both top-down and bottom-up RPL policies in
different contexts. Understanding how a multi-staged policy process (in this case, RPL)
might achieve a certain goal (in this case, the promotion of employability), it is important
to analyse the stages of the policy process one by one.
Figure 1: The Integrated Implementation Model
Source: Winter, 2012.
As evident from Figure 1, the implementation process comprises of five different var-
iables: 1) policy design, 2) organisational and inter-organisational behaviour, 3) man-
agement behaviour, 4) street-level bureaucrat behaviour and 5) target group behaviour
(Winter, 2012, p. 258). According to Winter’s model, the policy formulation can be 1)
characterised by conflict among stakeholders, 2) based upon a theory of causality or 3)
symbolic (implying pretention of action rather than real action).
At the stage of designing a policy, the structure and functional relationships are chalked
out, for instance, who will do what, when, and how. Ehlers (2005) states that even though
RPL policy designs may differ because of contextual factors (culture, history, past policy
choices, and the like), three ideal types can be identified: the market-led, the state-led and
the partner-led type (Ehlers, 2005, pp. 505–511).
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73Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
In the market-led ideal type, non-profit associations (funded by competing, self-govern-
ing providers) formulate and implement the RPL policy design. Even though the state
might provide basic policy guidelines, no public subsidies or public monitoring might
be available. RPL is a product in the market that individuals can buy from providers if it
benefits them and is affordable. The state, unions and employers are not involved or are
negligibly involved. Thus, RPL is not a state prerogative. The RPL policy designs that
took shape in the US are market-led and have since 1974 been regulated by a non-pub-
lic institution, CAEL (Cooperative Assessment of Experiential Learning). In the UK,
government policy guidelines similarly act as the basis for RPL policy designs. RPL is
defined as “identification by an awarding organisation of any learning undertaken, and/or
attainment, by a learner” (Ofqual, 2018, p. 70). This implies that self-governing providers
formulate and implement RPL policy designs in the UK.
The core in the state-led ideal type is the state which formulates, implements and evalu-
ates RPL policies. RPL is conceptualised as a right for citizens or at least manifested as
a provision for citizen welfare, and the duty of the state. Market and social partners have
limited influence while the state pays all major costs and monitors policy implementa-
tion. For instance, education providers, unions and employers have limited influence on
RPL policy formulation and implementation in France. The Validation of Acquired Ex-
perience (VAE) (or RPL) is the citizens’ right and the state’s duty.
Tripartite negotiations among the state and social partners regarding who gets and pays
what, when and how comprise the core in the partner-led ideal type. The stakeholders
pay the costs directly or indirectly and benefit from RPL. Policy designs can be changed
over time as they are compromises among stakeholders. German-speaking countries and
Nordic countries have partner-led policy designs built upon tripartite negotiations. For
instance, methods and tools for Realkompetanse in Norway were developed in a huge
state-funded project between 1998 and 2002, engaging stakeholders from private, public,
and voluntary sectors. The Norwegian RPL reform was based on the experiences gained
during the project.
Supplementary conceptualisations are relevant for the comparison of RPL policy designs.
Winter and Nielsen (2010) describe three administrative principles3 that influence all var-
iables: market, hierarchy and network. These principles are usually developed/rooted over
time in a particular context and are difficult to change. The market principle in such a
context is led by actors aiming at profit-optimisation in the long-run for the employers
and adult learning providers. The policy designs are implemented on the basis of whether
there is a demand in the market for a particular outcome and someone (adult learners or
employers) is ready to pay for it. The administrative principle of hierarchy is a top-down
approach in which the state develops a policy design and all stakeholders have to follow
3 Ways in which the administration of the policy implementation process is organised in a particular context.
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the orders of the state or else be penalised. The network administrative principle charac-
terises a bottom-up approach and is used in contexts where policy decisions are usually
reached by consensus. The implementation of the network principle requires strong so-
cial capital and cultural norms that support the implementation of all policy decisions
once they are taken. Using this principle for implementation implies that a consensus is
reached and trade-offs are negotiated among different stakeholders, who then decide to
implement a policy motivated by whatever outcomes they have negotiated for themselves.
The administrative principles identified by Winter and Nielsen (2010) appear as corre-
sponding to Ehlers ideal types (2005) but they refer to different phases of the policy
process. Winter and Nielsens’ (2010) descriptions could explain why a particular type
of policy design as per Ehlers’ (2005) conceptualisation find (do not find) less or more
resistance in a given context during implementation, despite being logical or beneficial
for the stakeholders. Problems in the execution of policy implementation by, for example,
implementation managers or street-level bureaucrats4 can lead to the ineffectiveness or
the failure of policies. For instance, hiring untrained assessors (street-level bureaucrats
in Figure 1) to conduct RPL assessments might ruin the policy outcomes since the as-
sessment of RPL requires specialised professional competencies to understand the com-
plexities of human learning and specify what has been learnt in informal and non-formal
settings. Thus, when administrative principles do not support the policy design, policy
change might be obstructed due to path dependency. This implies that once an adminis-
trative principle becomes deeply rooted (a path is chosen) in a context, changing it might
incur huge, multiple costs owing to the change required in the structured, non-structured
institutions, values, beliefs, culture and the like that develop around it. Individual human
behaviour (of the professionals and the target group) is an important factor that makes
path dependency concrete. Moreover, inducing changes in the administrative principles
for one policy might make policies incoherent at large and create confusion or failure to
ensure the smooth flow of actions and impact among stakeholders.
However, this does not imply that change is impossible. Policy designs could vary across
policies, and all policies in a given context do not necessarily follow a similar design, un-
like administrative principles. For instance, even though the Indian policy design for RPL
is state-led, that is not necessarily the case for other Indian policies, whereas the admin-
istrative principle remains hierarchical. Furthermore, policy designs extend beyond im-
plementation and include evaluation and further input for formulation and policy change.
In addition, changes in the context provide a critical juncture or a window of exceptional
opportunity or conjuncture (a situation in favour of change) that can be used by deci-
sion makers to introduce reforms or radical changes in policies with minimum resistance
(Cerna, 2013, p. 4). Moreover, changes can also occur due to a change in the advocacy
coalition (alignment of influential stakeholders along a certain approach or perspective)
emanating from a window of opportunity or independently (Sabatier, 1998, p. 129, 139;
4 In the case of RPL, street-level bureaucrats are the staff who assess the applicants.
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75Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
Gornitzka, Kogan, & Amaral, 2005). Sometimes, policy changes are merely incremen-
tal, induce continuity and lead to building-up of policy, for instance, Realkompetence
in Denmark. On the contrary, aiming at discontinuity through incremental changes can
lead to gradual transformations in the long run while abrupt changes can lead to policy
The implementation of a particular policy design using a particular administrative principle
embedded in a certain context is done by utilising a combination of policy instruments.
Vedung (1998) has identified three policy implementation instruments: carrots, sticks and
sermons. While carrots imply gains (economic or otherwise), sticks imply punishment, and
sermons imply information, awareness and value-based appeals regarding why a certain
policy should be implemented (Vedung, 1998). The conceptualisations by Ehlers (2005),
Winter and Nielsen (2010), Winter (2012) and Vedung (1998) are used to analyse and com-
pare the contrasting RPL policy designs in Denmark (partner-led) and India (state-led),
providing adequate scope for testing the considerations embedded in the conceptualisations.
The market-led type is not used for comparison but for reference and reflections because of
the authors’ limited knowledge about the contexts with market-led policy designs.
Popular definitions of public policy, such as policy refers to what a government decides
to do or not to do (Lineberry, 1977), are becoming less relevant with the increasing par-
ticipation of stakeholders. In Nordic countries, it is not really up to the state to take policy
decisions on its own. Furthermore, the influence of transnational actors at different stages
is sometimes more relevant than the influence of governments. Thus, at least in the case
of RPL, a policy is public, owing to the recipients or the target group influenced by the
policy rather than who decides, implements, or evaluates it.
Learning occurs in various settings: formal, non-formal and informal; it is a constant,
lifelong and life-wide process. The formal recognition of all types of learning outcomes
achieved at different stages in life and in different settings adds to the description of an
individual’s capabilities to do (or not do) a particular task. It helps to identify whether an
individual would fit the requirements of a particular job. In labour markets marred by a
skills gap, it even becomes critical to identify all the skills and competencies an individual
has in order to address skill mismatch. Moreover, the estimation and recognition of an
individual’s learning outcomes enables that person to make informed choices regarding
what skills and competencies are lacking and should be acquired for her/him to access the
employment opportunities available in the labour market.
Formal certification of individual learning outcomes can also provide her/him with al-
ternative opportunities to access the formal education system on the basis of learning
outcomes achieved outside it, in non-formal or informal settings. This may create path-
ways for the social inclusion of individuals who did not have access to formal education
channels or organised sector employment opportunities in the labour market.
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Thus, RPL is a policy tool in favour of employability on the job market as well as access to
formal learning. It is also known as Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (in the US),
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (in Canada), Realkompetence (in the Nordic
Council of Ministers (NCM)), and Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning (in the
EC). The EU recognises accreditation, certification, recognition, assessment (and the like)
of learning outcomes in non-formal and informal settings as validation of prior learning.
In most countries, the procedure for RPL is defined under a common framework or RPL
Policy formulated by the state, market and/or social partners. The most generalised steps
include: 1) application by the individual to the relevant authority for the recognition of
knowledge/skills/competencies that need to be formally recognised; 2) an evaluation of
the knowledge/skills/competencies of the applicant by the relevant authority according
to a uniform qualification framework defined or recognised under the policy framework
in a given context; 3) award of formal certification from the competent authority; and 4)
recognition of the certificate by an employer/education provider and access to the labour
market and/or formal education on the basis of that certificate.
The Danish Case
Denmark is a small (the current population is 5.6 million), high income country with
negligible informal economy (apart from the exchange of services mainly in rural areas
(black economy) and certain micro-level economic activities often by second genera-
tion immigrants). Danish society is organised into numerous associations about almost
everything. Adults with similar interests engage with one or even multiple associations.
Policy decisions are taken primarily through consensus among stakeholders rather than
by a majority vote unlike in many democracies. Much consensus is reached through
tripartite negotiations among the state, employers and unions (organised as associations).
Parliamentary Committees interact with respective Ministers since it is possible to estab-
lish minority governments. Policies formulated by Parliamentary Committees ensure that
policies are developed with a long-term perspective rather than with short-term populist
considerations. Changes in governments do not lead to abrupt policy changes even though
changes in strategies are introduced owing to the difference in the way each government
works. Thus, negotiations related to a particular policy area might go on for decades until
a mature system is achieved and all stakeholders gain enough to form a consensus. A
wide variation or contrasting differences among stakeholders’ interests may lead to rather
vague policy designs with limited regulations (Ehlers, 2005). The policies are actually
often open for interpretation by each stakeholder (micro-politics) so that consensus can
be reached during the implementation process (see Figure 1). Even though this leads to
the introduction of experimental policy designs or the formulation of policies according
to contextual dynamics, implementation problems remain and take time to get resolved.
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77Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
The RPL policy in Denmark is a success. It aims at providing opportunities to people for fur-
ther education to make them more employable, enhance their income opportunities, and pro-
mote equality in the society in the long run. An alternative focus could have been provisions
with a direct focus on labour market needs rather than further education (like in Finland)
but the stakeholders in Denmark could not reach a consensus regarding this (Nordiska ...,
2003, pp. 63–64). The policy is based on the assessment of learning in all types of settings:
formal, non-formal and informal. This is similar to RPL policies in other Nordic countries
but different from the EU approach which does not include recognition of learning in formal
settings5 (Nordisk Ministerråd, 2003; EC, 2012). The Danish policy includes provisions for
an assessment of Realkompetence provided at each preceding NQF (National Qualification
Framework) level at each successive NQF level. With limited regulations (sticks), much
of the policy implementation depends upon strong social capital (sermons) and the will of
stakeholders motivated by long-term incentives (carrots) to support policy decisions.
It took decades to develop a functional policy design. In 1984, the Danish Parliament pro-
posed a 10-points programme on the education and training of adults. Apart from other
provisions, the programme proposed that all adults should have the right to get credits for
their Real Knowledge (competencies) irrespective of how they gained it (Folketinget,
1984). As per Danish regulations, the Danish government was free to take (or not take)
action on the proposed programme since the programme lacked the status of an act or law.
The 1984–2004 period was characterised by tripartite negotiations among the state and the
social partners. A consensus to implement RPL in vocational education was achieved and
in 2007 an act made it mandatory for all educational providers to offer RPL (Ehlers, 2005).
The influence of the NCM and the EU can be seen on the Danish act on Realkompetence
that introduced the first full-fledged policy on RPL, thirty-five years after the UNESCO
recommendation that pushed RPL onto the international policy agenda! The recommen-
dations by the NCM (Nordisk Ministerråd, 2001, 2003) and the EU’s standardised and
integrated policy on Validation of Prior Learning for all member states under its Edu-
cation and Training Strategy 2010 (Undervisningsministeriet, 2004) are reflected in the
policy design (Ehlers, 2013). Apart from that, the Copenhagen Declaration on increased
cooperation in European Vocational Education and Training (2002), the Maastricht Com-
muniqué on Cooperation in European Vocational Education and Training (2004), the
Council Recommendation in 2012 for the mandatory formulation of an RPL policy in
each member state by 2018, and policy recommendations to cope with implementation
challenges in member states in 2010, 2015 and 2016, all comprise the EU’s RPL policy
and have influenced the Danish policy as shown by annual Danish Country Reports to the
EU regarding policy compliance (Ehlers 2013; Cedefop, 2019).
The current RPL policy design has four primary stakeholders who are engaged in mi-
cro-politics with each other. These stakeholders and their stakes (time and money) are
presented in Table 1.
5 In EU policies, formal learning is integrated into the pan-European credit transfer system and mobility policy.
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Table 1: Stakeholders and Stakes in RPL in Denmark
Stakeholder Description Stake (Reason for Micro-Politics) Stand
State 1. Funds the self-governing
providers of adult learning
on the basis of ECTS
points<?> earned by
individual adult learners;
2. Funds the education of
individual learners through
formal channels.
1. RPL saves costs since learners can
gain additional ECTS while the state has
to pay less to providers, and individuals
get paid by employers or associations;
2. RPL saves time (resource) since the
adult learner is back on the labour
market in a very short time.
Supports RPL.
RPL (over
Paid by employers,
associations, or self-funded.
1. Want to achieve better career
opportunities, status and higher income;
2. Want to save time and work rather
than gain formal education.
Support RPL.
(public and
Supported by employer
1. Get certified human resources;
2. Save their own time and costs for
assessing human resources;
3. Get the possibility to enhance
employee satisfaction by illustrating
that learning occurs at the workplace
and not only through formal education
Support RPL.
of formal
and RPL
1. Paid by the state based
on the total ECTS points they
manage to ‘sell’;
2. They are profit-optimisers.
1. Effective implementation of RPL
threatens their ‘monopoly’ as providers
of adult learning;
2. Each time RPL is done, they lose an
opportunity for ‘selling’ ECTS points and
therefore funding possibilities.
3. RPL requires special training for the
4. Heads of provider institutions may not
be willing to invest time and resources
for the implementation of RPL.
Oppose RPL.
They demand:
1. compen-
sation for the
loss of funding
due to RPL;
2. additional
funding to co-
ver assessment
Source: Created by the authors.
Thus, despite a well-negotiated policy design, implementation challenges are a reality.
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79Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
All primary stakeholders are engaged in micro-politics with each other while the pro-
viders demand more funds (since they are profit-optimisers) and negotiations about who
should pay the costs continue, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Micro politics among stakeholders in Denmark
Adult Learners
Adult Learners
Source: Created by the authors.
A national evaluation (2010) argued for detailed provisions to ensure effective RPL in
case the providers failed to deliver quality, advocated economic incentives to minimise
the resistance of providers by accepting their demands for more funds, and recommended
awareness creation regarding RPL in order to ensure effective implementation (Danmarks
Evalueringsinstitut, 2010).
The Indian case
India is characterised by a massive population, widespread poverty and resulting so-
cio-economic problems, high unemployment, huge skill-gap, large informal sector, and
sizeable number of non-literates and child labourers (Box 2). The high rate of school
dropouts, limited access to higher education and vocational training, complemented by
lack of adequate resources, infrastructure, and political will make learning in informal
and non-formal settings necessary for the livelihood of millions. Adults without formal
education work in the informal sector and struggle with exploitative social structures (like
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the caste system) that also have occupational connotations.6 They have knowledge and
skills to earn a livelihood but a lack of formal certification forces them to survive at min-
imum levels of income and career possibilities. At the same time, traditional knowledge
and skills that also provide identity to millions of people are on the verge of extinction
due to lack of formal channels for imparting them to future generations. In a converging
global economy, RPL is not only relevant to equip the working age population with ad-
equate certification to find jobs but also for creating comparative advantage in areas of
knowledge exclusive to traditional Indian culture. Competing in the international market
requires not only lifelong learning but also the constant recognition of that learning. RPL
is thus a relevant tool for addressing socio-economic challenges, promoting inclusive
development and making a large part of the population employable.
Box 2: Statistics from India
1.3 billion population (2018)
4.6% (62.7 million people) live in extreme poverty without basic necessities
3.5% unemployment rate (18.6 million people) (2018)
81.1% employment in informal sector (2018) with limited or negligible rights and ina-
ppropriate working conditions
287 million non-literates (37% or more than one third of the global non-literates) (2011
10.1 million child labourers (2011 Census) with limited possibilities for formal education
1% of the people own 73% of the wealth (2018)
Sources: Government of India (GoI), 2011; ILO, 2018a, p. 21, 129; Oxfam, 2018.
RPL is included in the skill development policy and aims at promoting 1) social inclu-
sion, 2) employability, and 3) more human resources in the Indian labour market to cater
to global requirements for skilled labour. It follows a state-led policy design (since 2008)
owing to the hierarchy in India where the government makes the policy and bureaucracy
implements it. Only informal learning is recognised, and monetary awards are provided
by the state to various stakeholders. Table 2 shows the milestones of RPL policy devel-
opment in India.
The influence of the ILO is evident from Indian policy documents (based on terminology
and provisions) and the ILO’s RPL reports for India (Ummat, 2013; ILO, 2014; GoI, 2009;
MSDE, 2015, 2017). The ILO has been doing a policy analysis of Indian initiatives and
suggesting reforms based on best practices (ILO, 2014, pp. 15–18). It has highlighted that
Indian initiatives were fragmented and even though they exceeded their target in numbers,
they were ineffective (in terms of quality) between 2008 and 2013 (Ummat, 2013, pp. 2–3).
6 The caste system (social stratification) in India has been associated with people’s professional identity for
centuries and the nomenclature for many castes/social groups emanates from certain traditional professions/jobs.
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81Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
Table 2: Timeline of RPL Policy Initiatives in India
Year Programme Source Ministry Focus of the Initiative
2008 Part of Skills
Ministry of Labour
and Employment
Launching RPL:
1. Focus on skills;
2. Only informal (experiential) learning included;
3. Aimed at enhancing employability, promoting
social inclusion and adding up to the country’s
human resource;
4. Offered: a) better employment and formal
education possibilities to applicants; b) certified
human resources to employers saving their
assessment costs; c) reimbursement of assessment
costs to providers.
2012 RPL linked to
National Voca-
tional Education
Ministry of Human
Resource and
Development (ministry
responsible for
Standardisation of prior learning to establish
equivalency between formal learning certification
and certification from RPL.
2013 Skill Knowledge
Ministry of Human
Resource and
Direct pathway provided from informal learning to
formal education based on assessment by linking it
to offers for further formal education.
2013 Skill Training
Assessment and
Reward Scheme
Ministry of Finance Monetary award to applicants for getting their skills
2014 Initiative under
the National
Institute of
Open Schooling
Ministry of Human
Resource and
Assessment of the prior learning of dropouts from
the formal system by accepting different types of
evidence like pictures, reports from supervisors,
videos and the like.
2015 Guidelines on
Recognition of
Prior Learning
Under the Prime
Minister Skill
Ministry of Skill
Development and
1. Consolidated policy on RPL including existing
provisions but with more weightage to actors
from the market.
2. Highlighting the social value of RPL by providing:
a) recognition to traditional job profiles to
provide social prestige to selected traditional
practices for livelihood and formal recognition to
their contribution to national income;
b) recognition to informal learning models where
no alternative formal models exist to conserve
the existing knowledge and skills.
Source: Created by the authors based on Ummat, 2013; ILO, 2014; GoI, 2009; Ministry of Skill Deve-
lopment and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), 2015, 2017.
AS_2019_1_FINAL.indd 81 14.2.2019 14:01:34
The ILO thus recommended a consolidated policy to create impact and highlighted the
need for adequate data generation in order to keep track of whether the initiatives were able
to recognise learning relevant for the labour market or were merely adding to the number
of unemployed people with skills that were not demanded in the market at all. Stakehold-
er coordination was limited, many State7 governments showed inadequate engagement in
policy implementation, adequate awareness and information was lacking, changes in skill
standards were required, and the policy lacked attraction for applicants as well as providers
(Ummat, 2013, p. 3). The management, administration and financing of the policy was
complicated and weak, monitoring was inappropriate and delayed, skills and skill-stand-
ards were not updated for long, the number of facilitators was inadequate, assessments
were not standardised and were delayed. On top of that, the certification was not accepted
by many employers, including several government ones (Ummat, 2013, p. 9).
In 2015, consolidated guidelines were issued to put together all fragmented initiatives and
the ILO recommendations seemed to be accepted. Despite much contribution in voicing
the concerns in the informal sector and providing RPL offers in sectors where govern-
ment and market initiatives are missing, civil society actors like LabourNet (ILO, 2014, p.
10) were given limited space in policy and not even identified formally as stakeholders.
Furthermore, no provisions for data generation and policy evaluation were introduced,
thus making the provisions more symbolic than effective. The acceptance of RPL certifi-
cation is not mandatory for governmental or non-governmental actors because of which
it does not necessarily lead to employability. Data regarding how many people have been
placed in jobs after certification under the policy shows that most applicants who were
provided certification were already employed before applying and a very trivial number
of applicants received new jobs (The Indian Express, 2016). However, the data does not
transparently show how the chances to negotiate better contracts at work or increase in
salary etc. changed for the applicants due to certification. A major contribution of the
policy seems to be (there is no accurate official data regarding this) the inclusion of those
in the informal sector due to absence of any certification in the formal sector.
In 2018, 54.4 per cent of Indians are not employable (looking for jobs with required de-
grees and certifications but lacking the knowledge, skills or competencies to fit the re-
quirements of the jobs in the labour market) (Wheebox, 2018, p. 44). This means that
provisions for the recognition of learning outcomes (and not only skills) from non-formal
and formal settings like in Denmark have to be included. RPL may not be very fruitful
until acceptance of certification through RPL is made mandatory and jobs are available in
the market for those who get their skills recognised. Furthermore, cost sharing is another
relevant concern since the state is providing monitory rewards to the providers and the
applicants, but the approach is unsustainable. Finally, the challenge of policies based on
short-term political interests and electoral politics (British Council, 2014, p. 13) has to
be addressed to ensure the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of policy solutions.
7 Federal units in India are known as States like, for example, Landers in Germany, Regions in Denmark and
Provinces in Canada.
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83Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
The analyses of RPL in Denmark and India show that the two policy designs are very
different and the contexts within which they are embedded are contrasting. Ehlers’ (2005)
identification of ideal types facilitates the understanding of fundamental differences in
the structure and function of RPL and the elements they comprise of.
While the Danish policy design is partner-led and bottom-up, the Indian policy is state-
led and top-down. The Danish policy has successfully evolved over decades from a cul-
tural-social policy on providing rights to under-privileged groups to an economic policy
on enhancing the employability of the working population as such, increasing productivi-
ty in the economy, and saving costs for the state. The evolution of the Danish policy from
cultural-social to economic policy has been guided by stakeholders and their respective
interests within the far-sighted policy framework for constant development and ensuring
equality among citizens. These stakeholders have been influenced by transnational actors,
especially the EU and the NCM. The Indian policy design has been influenced by the
ILO. However, the policy design is top-down and the voices of all the stakeholders are
not heard. This hampers the process of policy evolution according to contextual needs.
The problem is further accentuated by the absence of mechanisms for data generation,
control, evaluation and impact assessment. Without any feedback and adequate informa-
tion regarding policy implementation, the initiatives remained fragmented and of poor
quality in the beginning. The consolidation of initiatives after the ILO’s recommendation
also proved futile because no major structural-functional changes were made. All this in-
dicates that the policy is symbolic and motivated by short-term political gains, no matter
what goals are mentioned in the policy documents.
Despite the fact that the state pays all major costs for RPL in India and even provides
rewards and compensation to the primary stakeholders, the policy has failed to achieve its
outcomes. RPL policy is a cost for the Indian state. On the contrary, even if the different
stakeholders in Denmark continue to negotiate about who should pay the costs for RPL,
effective outcomes have been constantly achieved and the policy is an investment for the
Danish state. The most problematic area in India is a symbolic policy design, whereas in
Denmark, it is policy implementation influenced by micro-politics.
Apart from all this, contextual differences between the two countries are stark. The qual-
ity of RPL in Denmark is assured to be the same as that of a certification from formal
education, the Danish labour market has the capacity to absorb all those who get RPL,
and constant negotiations among stakeholders ensure that the policy adapts to changing
needs. In India, quality is not assured, only informal learning is recognised, and certifi-
cation is not accepted everywhere. Furthermore, RPL might merely add to the number
of skilled unemployed people in India and pose additional macro-level challenges for the
government and thus remains a low priority.
The evolution of RPL policy in India and Denmark is fundamentally different, aiming
at different objectives, adopting different pathways and engaging different stakeholders.
AS_2019_1_FINAL.indd 83 14.2.2019 14:01:34
However, the comparison makes it evident that a combination of policy designs with
administrative principles and policy instruments is required to make it a success. For
instance, in the Indian case, providing carrots (monetary rewards) did not make the pol-
icy effective. Ehlers emphasises the possibility for different policy designs while Winter
points out the different stages and crossroads where policies could fail. Thus, a combi-
nation of policy instruments to implement a policy design by overcoming the friction
generated by administrative principles in a given context may ensure effective outcomes
for RPL policy.
A policy can be defined as a statement of intent by the stakeholders who formulate it.
RPL has developed from a social policy for the inclusion of the under-privileged to an
economic policy for promoting employability for all in Denmark. In India, it was adopted
as a socio-economic policy for inclusion but has evolved into political symbolism. The
most important factors leading to these developments in the two contexts have been: 1)
the engagement of stakeholders in the policy process, 2) ownership and accountability
leading to policy implementation in the short run and policy evolution in the long run;
and 3) the use of an appropriate mix of policy instruments (carrots sticks and sermons)
that enable the implementation of a certain policy design in a certain context with admin-
istrative principles and political, social and economic realities.
With the network administrative principle, all stakeholders have space to negotiate and
influence the policy design. When they cannot get their interests included in the policy
design, they manage to do it through micro-politics during policy implementation. Since
the policy depends upon negotiations and is constantly changing, the accountability of
stakeholders cannot be fixed but they take ownership, motivated by possibilities for the
fulfilment of their interests. The policy evolves based on the negotiations among stake-
holders gradually. Political, social and economic realities like unemployment rates and
short-term or long-term policy considerations play an important role in all stages of the
policy process.
The hierarchy administrative principle means that the space for voicing stakeholders’
concerns is already limited and pathways to include them in a bottom-up fashion need
to be created using a mix of policy instruments. In the case of India, the policy design
proposed by the ILO is adopted by the state with much leverage to the market but with no
concrete mechanism for policy evaluation and data generation, and with no involvement
of other stakeholders. This leads to limited accountability, negligible control and inad-
equate transparency at all stages of the policy process. Neither the state nor the market
actors take ownership since the policy design does not create a need for it. Other stake-
holders like civil society organisations find engagement either difficult or irrelevant.
Thus, irrespective of policy design and contextual factors (including administrative prin-
ciples), an appropriate mix of policy instruments, the engagement of all stakeholders and
AS_2019_1_FINAL.indd 84 14.2.2019 14:01:34
85Shalini Singh, Søren Ehlers: Recognition of Prior Learning...
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... Further, RPL is relevant for protecting cultural diversity in traditional crafts and other skills which comprise the social identity of many communities and social groups in India. By recognising these skills as 'skills' and by ensuring that they receive acknowledgement in terms of economic returns, RPL may provide an opportunity for social inclusion and sustainability too (Singh & Ehlers, 2019). ...
... Therefore, individuals who receive more money and everyone in the economy who benefits from taxpayers and increased spending is a stakeholder indirectly. In addition, the ILO has been involved in technical support and pilot projects and therefore can be considered a stakeholder too (Rothboeck et al., 2018;Singh & Ehlers, 2019). ...
... However, due to its local specificities, RPL in India is relevant also for protecting cultural diversity in traditional crafts that comprise the social identity of communities and social groups (cf. Singh & Ehlers, 2019). Moreover, there are differences in the extent to which the RPL arrangements of both countries are shaped by the discourses and policies of IIOs. ...
Full-text available
In this paper we draw on the theoretical perspective of new institutionalism, particularly on that of world culture and world polity, and discuss the influence of policies of three selected international intergovernmental organisations (IIOs) concerning the recognition of prior learning (RPL) on adult learning and education (ALE) policies, of which RPL is a part, in one developing country from the global South (India) and one developed country from the global North (Germany). Based on a comparative analysis of two country cases, we show that there is evidence of a worldwide convergence of ALE policies as IIOs play a crucial role in the formation and dissemination of European and/or global RPL policies that are based on similar st andards. However, it is also evident that this does not indicate a wholesale implementation and adoption of policies, especially in local environments.
... This is predominantly because of the rapid pace of change in technology and industry standards. HEIs need to consider weighting experience and prior certified learning against the lapsed time period; and HEIs may need to limit the scope for exemptions in some subject areas (Hamer, 2013;Singh and Ehlers, 2019;Maurer, 2021). ...
Purpose A diverse range of initiatives in relation to the recognition of prior learning (RPL) have been introduced in higher education systems over the past 20 years. This paper aims to explore the implementation of RPL initiatives, in an Irish context, and the implications for quality assurance in higher education. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative approach is adopted, to provide an enhanced understanding of the impact of RPL initiatives. Data is presented from interviews with key stakeholders: six academics, six coordinators and six learners who availed of RPL. Findings The introduction of RPL requires higher education institutions to adopt new approaches to the design and delivery of their programmes and also to review and revise quality assurance frameworks. This paper presents key insights across five over-arching themes (ambitions and outcomes; caution and suspicion; in the classroom; assessment and examinations; and life after university). Originality/value The introduction of RPL evokes a mixed reaction from stakeholders, and there is a range of differing experiences, leading to differences in attitudes and unintended impacts. This study provides insights both at an individual and institutional levels using experiential learning theory.
... The analysis of the validation principles in European recommendations and national regulations has allowed characterizing the validation of the learning obtained by professional experience and in non-formal and informal settings, allowing to set up the development of the accreditation process of competences in Spain. As a result, these works open the door to the deepening of research in the quality management field of the validation procedure in EU and Spain [59,60]. ...
Full-text available
Validation is an effective procedure for recognising the skills and knowledge acquired by individuals. However, the validation mechanisms in each country are not always easy to understand, especially due to a lack of information/data. The aim of this paper is to design a management system based on processes for the accreditation of professional competences acquired by work experience in Spain, considering European regulations. This is carried out through a contextualization of both regulatory frameworks through a bibliographic review, as well as the analysis of the quantitative and qualitative outcomes of the surveys that groups of experts involved in these tasks/procedures completed in Spain. All this has made it possible to design a model for the validation of learning acquired through professional experience as well as non-formal and informal channels in Europe and Spain, which facilitates the process of accreditation of competences.
... sional development, mobility of the workforce, and increased productivity, while reflecting the acquisition of knowledge and skills [6]. The research conducted by Cheng, Dainty, and Moore highlighted the integration between micro-competences and macro-competencies within a hybrid approach supported by role-focused measures: ...
Full-text available
Universities foster a collaboration with industry with their commitment towards society. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices of organizations facilitate implementation of the recognition of prior learning (RPL) in higher education, while creating long-term opportunities for sustainable development. The researchers of this study come from two different disciplines, and aim to embed sustainable development strategies for transforming education by utilizing the capacity of educators and industry professionals, while also contributing to the community and economy. The researcher with a specialization in economics identified the well-being of the community and economy, and another researcher with a design and ergonomics background brought the concept of service design. Results of the conducted surveys imply that a skill gap exists in the labor market and participants from the community are interested in receiving hands on training from the industry. The researchers introduce a model focusing on the significance and implementation of RPL, allowing youth and adults to accumulate credit through non-formal and informal learning experiences. The model reflects how the university assesses the current skills and needs of the target communities, how they are communicated to industry by identifying potential areas of development, how industry responds to the needs by providing training, and how the university acknowledges prior learning and promotes potential candidates to contribute towards industry.
... Since 1989, the policy frameworks for International Development (including Education for Development) have been shaped primarily by the OECD, the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF), the UN and its supporting agencies, and the ILO. ILO recommendations have formed the basis of major work-related, vocational, and employability policies and strategies like Recognition of Prior Learning in countries such as India (OECD, World Bank & ILO, 2016;Singh & Ehlers, 2019). The ILO has accepted allegiance to the international agenda for education aiming at development (ILO, n.d.). ...
Full-text available
... Since 1989, the policy frameworks for International Development (including Education for Development) have been shaped primarily by the OECD, the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (WB/IMF), the UN and its supporting agencies, and the ILO. ILO recommendations have formed the basis of major work-related, vocational, and employability policies and strategies like Recognition of Prior Learning in countries such as India (OECD, World Bank & ILO, 2016;Singh & Ehlers, 2019). The ILO has accepted allegiance to the international agenda for education aiming at development (ILO, n.d.). ...
Full-text available
Education policies are becoming increasingly oriented towards employability (economic returns) and subjected to measurements especially post-2015. Despite resistance from different stakeholders, employability has become a global norm and funds for programmes with non-economic objectives, especially in low and middle-income countries have been cut tremendously (Singh & Ehlers, 2020). Is this a short term crisis, a faulty and confused policy decision, or a part of a long term policy agenda aimed at bigger changes with deeper policy linkages? Who is promoting it with what intentions? How should the actors in the education sector deal with it? This paper answers these questions by mapping and analysing the shift in policy framework for International Development from Global North-South Divide (1970s-2015) to Sustainability (2015 onwards) and its impact on the policy of education for development. It shows how International Organisations (IOs) used knowledge, information and policy linkages to gain control over states and UN created a narrative about sustainability rooted in environment to facilitate an obscure OECD agenda for sustainable economic growth, backed by World Bank and the IMF’s measurement and control tactics. It further explains how and why the development policies (reflected in education) of low, middle and high income countries converged post-2015.
Prior learning assessment (PLA) uses testing or competency portfolios to assess and grant credit for college-level learning, thus offering personal and professional empowerment to adult learners. The purpose of this review was to systematically examine global academic literature related to PLA over a decade. An earlier review of U.S. literature focused solely on PLA, but this review focused on the globally used term recognition of prior learning (RPL) and prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR). Data collection followed a structured process to identify all peer-reviewed journal articles published over a decade that meet inclusion criteria. Data analysis included thematic coding to identify categories leading to themes. Major findings included journals publishing about PLA, author perspectives and affiliations, underlying empirical studies, and eight major themes: studies of programs, policy and systems, studies of PLA, technology tools, theory building, assessment practices, workplace applications of PLA, and immigration.
This book analyses higher education's digital transformation and potential disruption from a holistic point of view, providing a balanced and critical account from a variety of interdisciplinary viewpoints. It looks at case studies on educational and emerging technology, their impact, the potential risk of digitalization disrupting higher education, and also offers a glimpse into what the future of digitalization will likely bring. Researchers and practitioners from countries including New Zealand, Russia, Eswatini, India, and the USA, bring together their knowledge and understanding of this rapidly evolving field. The contributors analyse academia's digitalization along the broad topics of the sector's general digital (r)evolution. The book looks at changes in instructional formats from the Massive Open Online Courses to Small Private Online Courses and artificial intelligence. This work also provides analysis on how skills, competences and social networks demanded by future jobs and job markets can be further integrated into higher education.
This chapter examines the origins and the future role of digitally induced shared learning and, in this context, of micro-credentials as a currency towards earning a degree qualification, possibly in combination with the flexibility where to seek the qualification. We argue that the general trend towards the deinstitutionalization of tertiary education, to be understood as the unbundling and re-bundling of educational services, will help to make digitally based micro-credentials fungible by taking advantage of the so far reluctantly utilized degrees of freedom for accreditation and assessment more liberally. The COVID pandemic is encouraging a merger of the world of theoretically face-to-face programmes, now delivered virtually, and the world of MOOCs and micro-credentials. It will ultimately change the underlying economics of shared learning and will thereby help to make it a core feature of a much more accessible higher education.
This article reviews the literature on trends and practices of recognition of prior learning (RPL) in Africa and internationally with specific reference to some of the key elements of the RPL system, including; purpose; assessment methods; quality assurance; and legislative and regulatory frameworks. In addition, a theoretical foundation of RPL is discussed underpinned by the experiential learning theory principles with a brief description of other learning theories related to RPL. The article also discusses the trends and practices of RPL in African countries with an established RPL system. The key finding of the literature review was that there are different conceptions of RPL globally but which all have a similar purpose, that is, economic benefit. Africa has a different take on RPL. A portfolio of evidence is the most commonly used method of assessment both internationally and in Africa with an increased use of e-portfolios internationally. A variety of quality assurance methods are used which differ from country to country but are similar to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) quality standards which have been in use for many decades in the United States (US) since the inception of RPL. There are discrepancies in terms of legislative and regulatory frameworks. Some countries in Africa and internationally have no formal legislative and regulatory frameworks for RPL despite providing RPL services for years or decades. South Africa and Mauritius boast standardised and regulated RPL systems as do other developed countries such as New Zealand.
Understanding India: The future of higher education and opportunities for international cooperation
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Globalisering, videnskonomi og konkurrence'evne. Om restruktureringen af det danske uddannesessystem
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Ehlers, S. (2013). Globalisering, videnskonomi og konkurrence'evne. Om restruktureringen af det danske uddannesessystem. Uddanneseshistorie, 47, 21-35.
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