Procedures for the recognition of prior learning in higher education take shape in Iceland

In Iceland, recognition of prior learning (RPL) is an important step in aligning the national education system with principles of the broader European Higher Education Area. Guidance counselling plays a pivotal role in this process, which allows individuals to have their informal and non-formal learning experiences formally acknowledged and recognised. This is of value to everybody involved – the learner, the higher education institution and society, because it minimises the risk of people using valuable time in learning something they know already. Thus, RPL encourages lifelong learning, promotes flexible study paths and enhances diversity in the classroom, which increases the quality of higher education.

Guidance counselors are key to helping applicants understand and navigate RPL procedures, so that individuals with diverse needs and backgrounds realise that their previous experiences can be matched with the requirements of their study programme.

Recent legislative changes underscore the importance of RPL in the Icelandic education landscape. Amendments to the Icelandic Qualification Framework for Higher Education now allow institutions to recognise prior learning with the same academic weight as conventional coursework, validated by ECTS credits. Moreover, the legislation from March 2024 aims to further integrate Icelandic higher education with European standards, focusing on microcredentials and study degrees.

The establishment of a new Icelandic network for RPL in March 2023, coordinated by The Icelandic Center for Research (Rannís), marks a significant advancement in support structures for RPL. This network involves study counselors among other staff in higher education who work with RPL or will do so. The network meets twice a year to discuss and improve RPL processes. The members have identified topics of particular relevance to the network, such as transparency in procedures, roles of assessors and how to overcome obstacles to RPL implementation. RPL has already been fully established in the field of Pre-School Education at the University of Iceland and other study fields and institutions will soon follow.

The Icelandic network was established in the framework of a European project entitled 3-IN-AT-PLUS which was funded by the 2021 Erasmus+ Bologna call. As part of a specific work package on RPL, coordinated by AQ Austria, a European RPL Network has been founded by members in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Iceland and Sweden and brings together national networks in these countries where they exist. The opportunity for guidance counselors and other staff working on RPL to network with peers in other institutions and countries, and to learn from good practices elsewhere, has been crucial in this process and will continue to make a difference for years to come.

For guidance counselors, the evolving RPL landscape offers an opportunity to influence the educational and career trajectories of students significantly. By incorporating RPL into their counseling strategies, they advocate for a form of lifelong learning that continuously adapts to and incorporates individual experiences and skills. This not only empowers students in their academic journey but also helps higher education to recognise valuable skills that are needed in the society of today and tomorrow.

Rúna Vigdís Guðmarsdóttir, Co-ordinator of the Icelandic national network for RPL in Higher Education, Rannís, Iceland and Eydís Inga Valsdóttir, National Co-ordinator of Euroguidance, Rannís, Iceland