Recognition of Prior Learning and Lifelong Learning in Higher Education Project

This national initiative is a collaboration between the seven IUA Universities, the Institutes of Technology, and Technological Universities, and will build a consistent and coherent approach to recognition of prior learning (RPL) within and across the entire public higher education (HE) sector.

Funded under the Irish Government’s Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 3 (Innovation and agility), the project will see the higher education institutions engineer a significant shift in RPL policy, procedure and practice, that has transformative potential for Ireland’s education system to become an international leader in the field. The vision is that RPL will be an integral part of the higher education system, widely understood, celebrated and utilised as a flexible pathway to further learning, certification and professional development.

What is Recognition of Prior Learning?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as a concept values all types of learning, regardless of where it has occurred (e.g. in formal education settings, workplaces or everyday life). Higher education applicants whose prior learning is formally recognised can be granted access, advanced entry, credit or exemptions from modules. In some cases learners may be able to evidence that they have sufficient prior learning equivalent to full or minor awards. A fundamental principle of RPL is that a learner should not be asked to relearn something they already know. RPL is critical to the development of an accessible, flexible and permeable education and training system, and is a key enabler of lifelong learning and skills development, encouraging people of all ages to participate in learning pathways.

What challenges will the project address?

RPL has been in use in Irish higher education for decades and despite considerable progress and excellent examples of innovative practice, provision of RPL services is geographically uneven, fragmented and often very difficult to navigate for learners and higher education staff. Many people don’t know what RPL is or why it may be beneficial to them. The aim of this project is to work in partnership with enterprise, learners and the participating HEIs to bring RPL from the margins to the mainstream and substantially grow RPL opportunities (to 6,000 annually by the end of the project) and enhance RPL services in across the sector in a manner which is coherent, consistent and user-friendly.

Key activities for the project can be summarised as follows:

  • Develop and implement a learner-centred National Recognition of Prior Learning Framework to grow RPL opportunities and support service enhancement across the participating HEIs;​
  • Engage Enterprise Partners to understand the higher education needs of employees and identify RPL opportunities​;
  • Develop a National Online Platform to provide centralised information for diverse users;
  • Expand Communities of RPL Practice in HEIs and enhance capacity through the provision of a suite of training tools, materials and resources;
  • Develop a National RPL Dataset to monitor/report on progress and inform policy;
  • Develop national and local Communications Campaigns to promote RPL opportunities and increase the numbers of admissions on the basis of RPL.

The project will also work with a diverse range of key national stakeholders, including national education agencies, QQI, the HEA and SOLAS; the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (NFETL) and the RPL Practitioners Network; as well as employer and enterprise representative bodies, including Ibec and ISME who are already enlisted as enterprise partners of the project.

The chief academic officers of participating institutions retain overall oversight of the project. The Project Steering Group provides strategic direction, advice and guidance on a regular basis.

Project Steering Group
  • Prof. Paul McSweeney, VP for Learning and Teaching, UCC (Chair),
  • Prof. Martine Smith, Dean of Graduate Studies, TCD,
  • Billy Kelly, Deputy Registrar/ Dean of Teaching & Learning, DCU,
  • Frances O’Connell, VP Academic Affairs/Registrar, AIT,
  • Dr. Michael Hannon, VP Academic Affairs/Registrar, GMIT,
  • David Denieffe, VP Academic Affairs/Registrar, IT Carlow (Administrative Lead),
  • Dr. Larry McNutt, Registrar, TUD – Blanchardstown Campus,
  • Nora Trench Bowles, Head of Lifelong Learning, Skills & Quality, IUA,
  • Dr. Jim Murray, Director of  Academic Affairs, THEA,
  • Dr. Josephine Finn, former Head of the Department of Adult and Community Education, MU
  • Prof. Irene Sheridan, Head of the Extended Campus, MTU – Cork.

Ms Grace Edge is Project Manager for the Recognition of Prior Learning and Lifelong Learning in Higher Education Project (based at the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA) – grace.edge@thea.ie