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Exploring the recognition of prior learning in Australian VET

By Kristen Osborne, Cameron Serich Research report 23 June 2020 978-1-925717-52-5


Recognition of prior learning (RPL) in the Australian vocational education and training (VET) system is the process of assessing someone’s relevant prior learning and existing skills to grant formal recognition. RPL is an important mechanism for people with pre-existing skills to gain formal recognition. There are however known issues with RPL, as it can be costly and difficult to offer as a training provider. This report explores the nature of RPL that is taking place in Australia from a variety of dimensions.


About the research

Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is the process of assessing someone’s relevant prior learning and existing skills to grant formal recognition.

In the Australian vocational education and training (VET) system, RPL is an important mechanism for people with pre-existing skills to gain formal recognition without having to undergo the traditional training process. In theory the RPL process saves time and money for individuals and business, but in practice it can be costly and lengthy, with training providers often finding it difficult to organise and manage.

This report explores, from a variety of perspectives, the volume and nature of RPL currently granted in the Australian VET system. Of particular interest are the areas where most RPL is taking place, including the qualifications being completed with high rates of RPL. The report also includes an analysis of the factors that most affect the likelihood of RPL being granted to a student.

Key messages

  • There is limited granting of RPL in the Australian VET system and this has declined between 2015 and 2018.
  • In 2018, less than 5% of all successful subject results were granted through RPL and less than 3% of all students successfully completed any subjects through RPL.
  • A small number of niche qualifications are being predominantly issued solely through RPL, including over 90% of completions in the Diploma of Government Security, Advanced Diploma of Government (Workplace inspection/Investigations/Fraud control) and Diploma of Public Safety (Emergency Management)
  • There appears to be no single student or program characteristic that strongly predicts an individual being granted RPL. In the granting of RPL, many different factors come into play, including those at the student level (such as employment status) and those at the program level (such as field of study or the level of the program).

Executive summary

Through an analysis of the current levels and distribution of RPL results, this report presents insights into the recognition of prior learning (RPL) in the Australian vocational education and training (VET) system.

Over the last four years, the rate of RPL being granted has fallen. During this time, the completion of subjects through RPL has only represented a small proportion of all successful results. In 20151, 6.5% of all successfully completed subjects were achieved through RPL. By 2018 this rate had fallen to 4.8%. In terms of actual figures, of the approximately 19 256 000 subjects successfully completed in 2018, around 930 600 subjects were completed through RPL.

Some general trends are identified in the areas where the rate of RPL granted is higher. In 2018, a higher proportion of successfully completed subjects with an RPL result (7%) was found in training package qualifications, compared with less than 1% for any other program type. A higher rate of RPL (5.1%) was found in training programs that did not form part of an apprenticeship or traineeship compared with those in apprenticeship and traineeship programs (2.5%). The potential reasons for these trends are explored in the report.

Significant differences in the granting of RPL among the Australian states and territories are evident. In 2018, the highest rate of RPL granted was in Queensland (almost 9%), while the lowest was in the Australian Capital Territory (below 2%). Between 2015 and 2018 the trends in granting RPL also differed between the states and territories, with some rising or falling, while others remained stable.

For those training packages with the highest rates of RPL (Electricity Supply Industry — Generation Sector, and Aeroskills), approximately 38% of the subjects successfully completed as part of a qualification were granted through RPL, a figure significantly different from that of the training packages with the lowest proportions of RPL (Printing and Graphic Arts; Manufacturing; Sustainability; Foundation Skills; Floristry; Textiles, Clothing and Footwear; and Creative and Culture). For these, less than 1% of successfully completed subjects were granted RPL. The qualifications and subjects with the highest rates of RPL come from a mix of fields, including hospitality, government, construction, and engineering.

The student perspective on the granting of RPL is also examined in the report. Around 96 100 students were granted some amount of RPL in 2018, which represents 2.7% of all students who had successfully completed at least one subject (down from 4.2% in 2015). There are generally small variations in the proportion of students being granted RPL, these variations are based on factors such as gender, age, Indigenous status or disability status. Greater variation was found between students of various levels of remoteness or students with different prior education levels. Overall, the student analysis found that no single element of a student’s background or characteristics was a strong determinant in the granting of RPL.

How RPL fits into completed programs is also investigated in the report. Of the approximately 650 000 program enrolments commenced in 2017 that resulted in completions in either 2017 or 2018, around 9% were completed with some amount of RPL, and almost 4% were completed entirely with RPL, with the latter translating to around 24 600 programs.

The overall analysis demonstrated that no single element stood out as a predictor of RPL being granted, with the results confirming that the granting of RPL relies on a complex interplay of factors. While some factors might be more likely to predict an RPL outcome than others, no one single factor can be relied upon to explain RPL outcomes.

[1] The first year in which Total VET Activity data are available through the National VET Provider Collection.


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