Challenges and opportunities in national structures
While there are policies and frameworks that promulgate and encourage RPL, such as the DHET Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Coordination Policy, the DHET Draft Articulation Policy and the SAQA National Policy for the Implementation of the Recognition of Prior Learning, the funding of RPL currently falls under the general budget for higher education. The problem with this situation is that RPL requires funding for various functions that fall outside the norms of formal studies and are therefore excluded in institutional budgets; these include the following:
- • Funding for RPL policy development at institutions of higher leanring
- • Funding for specialised RPL module/course development
- • Funding for the needs of persons in the workplace and outlying communities, such as distance learning and support through mentorship
- • Funding for tire training of academic staff hi RPL pedagogy and assessment
A major factor that compromises the subsidy funding to higher edrrcation programmes, in the context of RPL, is the concept of throughput, whereby the amount of funding granted to the institution depends on the time taken for a student to complete his or her qualification; the minimum time attracts the maximum funding while any delay in completion correspondingly redrtces funding. While this makes some sense in the formal system, it does not allow for the stop-in/stop-out mode of study for students who drop out of the system due to socio-economic problems. Consequently, this becomes an impediment to institutions that wish to implement RPL.
Alignment of policies
The study foimd that the interpretation of RPL policy is not consistent among different structures such as the DHET, the SAQA and the CHE. This has caused unnecessary delays in the effective implementation of RPL. It is recommended that the DHET RPL policy and the SAQA RPL implementation policy form the basis for aligned policy development at the CHE. The current CHE RPL rules allow for a maximum of 10% award of credits via RPL. If one were to look at a typical undergraduate degree, which requir es a minimum of360 credits usually distributed equally over three years, 10% equates to 36 credits. As one credit equates to 10 notional hows of learning, a typical RPL candidate will requir e 3 240 notional hows of learning to make up the shortfall of 324 credits. Uris is a major stwnbling block to RPL candidates who wish to apply for the award of credits at institutions of higher learning.
Most commonly an RPL candidate who wishes to achieve mid-career upskilling would require the bridging of learning gaps in subject areas with a theoretical focus, as this is difficult to achieve through practice experience alone. The theory modules in a formal qualification typically cany far lesser-credit value than a major module. The institutional handbooks suggest that theoretical modules are usually 25% to 50% of the value of major modules in an undergraduate degr ee. The typical RPL applicant would have acquired a significant amount of knowledge and skills related to the major modules, which in the discipline of architecture would be practice-related modules such as Design and Technology. The 10% rule is therefore a form of unfair gatekeeping that requires urgent review. I reaffirm that the alignment of DHET, SAQA and CHE policies is crucial to the effective implementation of RPL. which would be fair- and more likely to realise its intended purpose of redress and transformation.
Rethinking historical norms of a formal higher education system
The DHET would need to reform its rules regarding the “residency clause”, also known as the 50/50 rule, which requires that a stirdent needs to achieve 50% of the credit value, witlr a further requir ement of at least 50% at exit level, in order to be awar ded a qualification at an institution of higher learning. This in real terms equates to more than 180 credits of a typical undergraduate degr ee, noting that there would be modules carrying higher credit value at then exit level. This again presents a major stwnbling block to RPL candidates, hr fact, from my own experience, a student who obtained most of the credits, including those for the exit-level major module, who needed three minor modules to complete the exit-level learning outcomes to be awarded a qualification had to register for modules in which he already obtained credits at another institution of equivalent standing. This not only costs the student a significant amount of money and two years of formal study time, but it also delays his or her entry into the profession, which presents a much greater financial impact over time.
The throughput requirement, as discussed earlier, is another factor that needs to be rethought. The endeavour to achieve transformation through reformed legislation and frameworks such as the NQF, articulation policies and RPL policies implies that academic programmes would require funding for various RPL functions. The paradox is that the funding of these programmes will be compromised by RPL due to unreformed rules and clauses such as the residency clause and throughput rules. These need to be revised to become fair to both the RPL applicant and the academic institution to prevent a consequent dis-incentivisation of RPL.