Quality assurance practice in the provisioning RPL (Recognition of prior learning)in higher education

Author: Motaung, Mokabe Julia


Educational level: PhD (Assessment and Quality Assurance in Education and Training)

Discipline: Curriculum Studies

University: University of Pretoria

Abstract: The policy and practice of RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) remains a contested area in the higher education sector. While a growing body of research on RPL has become available, little is known about the quality assurance dimensions of this policy and its current expression in higher education practice. Accordingly, this study seeks to provide a comprehensive and detailed portrait of the manner in which RPL is implemented in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria. The central question is does the RPL system that is in place at this institution meet national and international requirements for quality and quality assurance? If not, what are the reasons and how can the faculty improve its RPL practice? The research sub-questions addressed are the following: What is the quality of the inputs used to design the RPL that is in place in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria? How does the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria assess RPL candidates for their prior learning? What is the effect of the output of the RPL system on client satisfaction?A mixed methods research design was used for this study. A single Faculty (Education) was selected as the data collection site, to reveal the deeper and nuanced impact of the process of implementation of the RPL programme. A semi-structured interview schedule administered to the senior managers of the faculty was to elicit information on how the RPL system was conceptualised and designed. This process included the Dean (Faculty of Education); Head of Department (Curriculum Studies); Head of Department (Educational Management, Law and Policy Studies); Director (Centre for Evaluation and Assessment) and the Director (Centre for Joint Science, Mathematics and Technology Education). To determine whether there is a link between what the quality Assurance Unit of the university promotes and application of such principles and procedures at service delivery level, an interview with the Director of the QA Unit was done. Other interviews involved students (undergraduates and postgraduates); the non-academic staff and lecturers within all the departments of the faculty, to determine whether they knew or were aware of RPL related activities in the faculty.An observation tool was constructed to examine the quality of the assessment process, which involved RPL learners, assessors, evidence facilitators, verifiers, moderators and RPL administrators. A questionnaire was administered to RPL learners involved in the assessment process to determine their satisfaction with the output of the RPL programme. Lecturers who participated in the RPL assessment process were interviewed to determine their experiences. Finally, an observational checklist was used to determine quality indicators at macro (administrative) and micro (academic) levels. The data was analysed using pattern matching, discrepancy, content and interpretational analyses methods. The research findings presented are in the form of a “thick” narrative on the quality of RPL implementation, that is, what the faculty should do to improve or strengthen the current system, and a portrayal of how the RPL programme truly operates.The findings indicate that a relatively good system of RPL provisioning is in place in the Faculty of Education, with a few areas of concern (weaknesses). The major problem is that this system is not benefiting the majority of people it was intended for. The system is “selective” and “exclusionary” in nature. There are clear procedures and processes for RPL assessment, which are adhered to strictly by faculty assessors. The RPL system that is currently in place is satisfactory to those who were assessed for prior learning during the period 2003-2006 and unsatisfactory at the level of the lecturers who participated in the assessment process. Most of them indicated that RPL is an add-on activity to their workloads, with very little incentives from management. To those who were not part of the assessment process, but were assumed to have received information from the faculty, the findings indicated that they knew very little about RPL and how it is being assessed in the faculty. From the client’s perspective, most (eighty four percent) said if they knew how this system operates in the faculty, they would want to be assessed for their prior learning.An extensive examination of the RPL practice in the Faculty of Education gave useful insights on the quality of RPL provisioning. Future research needs to concentrate on evaluations on how RPL is implemented in the other faculties of the university. Second to this, is to begin to provide answers as to what causes full-scale implementation of RPL problematic in the higher education sector, to provide empirical data to policy makers for decision-making purposes. Thirdly, to provide solutions towards the sustainability of the RPL system in the higher education sector, there is a need to do studies on the cost-effectiveness of RPL implementation. © University of Pretoria

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Keywords: Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), quality, self-evaluation, internal evaluation, continuous quality improvement, customer satisfaction, external evaluation, evaluation research, quality audits, quality cycles, quality assurance, quality management system


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