A2.5 Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL)

  • Definitions

    Credit accumulation is the process of achieving credits over time in relation to a planned programme of study. 

    Credit transfer is a mechanism which allows credit awarded by a higher education awarding body to be recognised, quantified and included towards the credit requirements for a programme delivered by another higher education provider and/or between programmes offered by a higher education provider. 

    Appropriate learning

    At the time of the development of the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS), the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) articulated the principle that “appropriate learning, wherever it occurs… may be recognised for academic credit”.  This principle, together with the introduction of CATS in the early 1990s, made it possible for universities to set a value for both extra-mural learning and individually-negotiated programmes of study. 

    Academic credit should therefore only be given for ‘appropriate learning’, i.e. learning that is consistent with the CNAA’s principle that programmes of study “must stimulate an enquiring, analytical and creative approach; encouraging independent judgement and critical self-awareness” – a principle that is echoed in Brookes’ own educational ethos.  The Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), level descriptors, and relevant subject benchmark statements are key reference points now used to judge the appropriateness of learning. 

    Key reference points

    Oxford Brookes University’s approach to APL is informed by:

    These procedures are intended to promote the use of APL and to ensure cross-institutional consistency in the award of credit for prior learning.  See also the Open Award regulations in section B3.


    The accreditation of prior learning (APL) refers to the identification, assessment and formal acknowledgement of prior learning which has taken place outside the University.  This may be certificated learning (APCL), for which a student has already followed a prescribed programme of study leading to a specified academic award; or experiential learning (APEL), where learning which has taken place outside formal education or training systems (often in the workplace) is assessed and recognised for academic purposes. 


    Credit is awarded for learning, and students must therefore provide evidence of their learning, either through the submission of the required assessment/s for a module or programme of study taken at Brookes, production of an award certificate, or other evidence of learning where it has taken place outside formal educational settings.

    The credit assigned to prior learning may be used for admission with advanced standing onto an Oxford Brookes programme, or for exemption from an element or elements within the programme.  The University seeks to ensure that applicants are awarded the maximum amount of relevant credit to which they are entitled by virtue of their prior achievements, subject to a maximum limit of two-thirds of the total credit required for the award.  The two-thirds limit also applies to any interim exit award.

    A student transferring credit towards an award shall have the class of degree or distinction determined either by the average of the marks on the minimum number of acceptable module credits that must be passed by study on a Brookes programme or, if marks as well as credits are transferred i.e. from previous study on a Brookes course or by specific arrangements with another institution which will be detailed in individual programme regulations, by the average of any marks on the modules credited together with those on the modules specified above.

    APL may be used:

    • to award credit in part-fulfilment of a programme requirements at the point of entry (direct entry or entry with advanced standing);
    • to enable transfer between programmes of study, with the credit from the first programme being used in part-fulfilment of the newly entered programme’s requirements;
    • post entry, with credit awarded in part fulfilment of the requirements of the programme.

    Learning outcomes and learning equivalence

    All learning can be expressed in terms of credit values but not all credit will necessarily be accumulated towards a specific programme or award - this will depend on the relevance of the learning to the academic and professional requirements of the programme.  Credit may be described as:

    • General credit: academic credit attached to an individual’s learning, in recognition of assessed learning at a specified level, without being considered in relation to a particular programme of study.
    • Specific credit: the proportion of general credit which represents learning that is directly relevant to an individual student’s proposed programme of study. When general credit is recognised through a higher education institution’s admissions procedure as directly contributing to a particular programme, it becomes specific. 

    Prior learning achievements must be equivalent to the learning outcomes of the programme or module against which credit is sought.  A student must demonstrate through the admissions process that the credit they have previously been awarded is directly relevant to the intended learning outcomes of the programme to which they wish to gain entry or the module/s from which they wish to gain exemption. 

    Where advanced standing is sought in respect of one or more specific modules, prior learning achievements should relate directly to the learning outcomes of the modules. Credit for prior learning can only be awarded in respect of whole modules. When assessing a claim against a whole stage of a programme, prior learning should be mapped directly to the level/interim stage learning outcomes as stated in the programme specification.  If interim stage learning outcomes are not stated, reference should be made to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications.

    Applicants for admission with advanced standing may be admitted to any point of a programme consistent with the level and volume of credit awarded for prior learning. However, to be eligible for an award, a maximum of two thirds of the required total credit for the award may be awarded through APL. This eligibility requirement does not apply to students who have successfully completed the Oxford Brookes and HKMA GDL programmes and wish to complete an LLB (Hons) degree.   

    An overseas qualification may be judged acceptable for entry with specific credit, subject to reference to NARIC, to the relevant overseas qualifications framework, and to the FHEQ. Entry with advanced standing may also be granted through an articulation agreement with a partner organisation (approved through the appropriate process as set out in the Quality & Standards Handbook), in which students successfully completing an identified programme at the partner are guaranteed entry at a later stage of a specified Brookes programme. 

    Subject Coordinators are responsible for assessing claims for APL, and the results of the assessment should be recorded on the relevant form (contact Student Central for advice on applications for APL), and submitted for approval. The authority for verifying decisions and approving the award of credit for prior learning lies with Examination Committees, in consultation with the external examiner/s.

    Students awarded exemption from aspects of the programme through APL should be provided with information about how their final award classification will be calculated if it will differ from the standard calculation.  Credits awarded through APL should be recorded on the transcript. 

    Holders of some professional and other vocational awards such as HNC/Ds are permitted direct entry to a later stage of (or exemptions from elements of) individual programmes.  Acceptable vocational and professional qualifications for direct entry to individual programmes, and any progression requirements, should be stated in the entry requirements for the programme and approved through the validation process.

    Students admitted to a programme in one of the later stages, having completed the equivalent of the earlier stages on a different programme, should be recorded as exempt from the earlier stages to indicate that the credit requirements have been met. 

    The rules governing the calculation of award classifications for direct entry students must be set out in the programme or award scheme regulations. 

    Students may transfer from one approved programme to another within the University at the discretion of the Subject Coordinator responsible for the admitting course.

    Applicants who have successfully completed the whole or part of a programme of study at another UK higher education institution may be admitted with credit at an appropriate point on an approved programme of the University, at the discretion of the Programme Lead for the admitting course.


    Prior experiential learning is uncertificated learning which has taken place outside formal educational settings, such as in the workplace.  The following principles should be taken into consideration when considering the desirability of embarking on a claim for APEL. 


    Where applicants' prior un-certificated learning, including experience and industrial training, can be assessed with sufficient accuracy it may be used to give entry to an Oxford Brookes programme with specific credit.

    APEL is not concerned with accrediting the applicant’s experience per se, but with assessing and quantifying the learning that has taken place through that experience.  Evidence is required - usually in the form of a portfolio of evidence and a reflective statement - to enable the assessment of the learning for which credit is being claimed.

    The number of credits allocated to a portfolio submitted in a claim for APEL should be calculated on the basis of the notional effort involved in achieving the learning outcomes.  In the context of a formal programme of study where a prescribed curriculum is delivered by the University, one credit equates to ten notional learning hours, hence a 10 credit module involves around 100 hours of learning.  In the context of experiential learning, four hours experience roughly equates to one hour of learning; therefore, for each 10 credits awarded, an applicant will have undertaken around 400 hours of experience. 

    Credit for prior learning can only be awarded in respect of whole modules: potential claimants should therefore be advised against presenting an application for APEL unless they have sufficient experience to claim at least one module’s worth of credit, which will involve drawing on a significant amount of relevant experience. 

    Claims for APEL must be assessed against intended learning outcomes of the programme or module against which the credit will be claimed.  The Open Award framework (section B3 in the Specific Regulations) may also be used to deal with individual claims for APEL.

    Faculties should have clear procedures in place for assessing APEL claims.  Clear information must be available to staff and students about:

    • who is responsible for collecting and presenting the evidence of learning,
    • what format the evidence should take,
    • what advice and support will be provided by the University for claimants in preparing the portfolio,
    • by whom and how the claim will be assessed,
    • which Examination Committee will consider the claim for approval,
    • how the APEL will be recorded on the transcript, and
    • how award classifications will be calculated. 

    The cost of processing claims for APEL can be high because of the complexity and the time involved, for both University staff and claimants, in putting together the portfolio of evidence, advising and supporting applicants, and assessing the claims; and applicants should be advised of this prior to embarking on the process.

    An applicant may be judged to have satisfied, wholly or in part, the learning outcomes of a period of supervised work experience which forms part of a programme of study, on the basis of their prior training or experience.  In assessing such applications, Programme Leads should consider:

      • the quality of the prior training or work experience, and its supervision and assessment;
      • the relevance of the prior training or supervised work experience to the learning outcomes of the element of the programme for which the student wishes to gain exemption;
      • whether the award of credit for prior learning in respect of, or exemption from aspects of, the work or practice placement concerned will compromise the student’s ability to fulfil any professional or other statutory requirements which the supervised work experience element is designed to meet.

    In cases of sandwich programmes, any credit awarded for prior learning, or exemptions given for prior experience, is subject to a maximum of 50% of the credit assigned to, or period of, the placement element of the course. 

    On entry to a course with a requirement for a period of study abroad, a student may be exempted from that requirement, and the course correspondingly shortened, if the student is able to demonstrate that they have already achieved the learning outcomes for the study abroad element of the course by virtue of relevant prior learning and experience at the appropriate level.

  • Approved: 
    Academic Enhancement & Standards Committee, 27th June 2012
    Academic Board 18th July 2012

    Last updated:
    Academic Enhancement & Standards Committee, 14 September 2016 (addition to A2.5.2)
    Academic Enhancement & Standards Committee, 7 March 2018 (variation to A2.5.3 - paragraph 2)