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Prior learning credit can rev up your career, writes Tom O'Neil

A few years ago, I sent a request about courses and study options to an American university advertising in a highly respected international business magazine.

To my great joy, I found that I was a highly academic individual who could cross-credit my life experience and tertiary study for a whole range of qualifications.

My bachelor of social sciences in psychology from the University of Waikato could immediately be upgraded to a PhD in psychology.


My 10 years' (at the time) business experience of course equated to at least an MBA, and my two months' community service experience in India and the Philippines with my church meant I could get a PhD in divinity.

Sadly, the murky world of "diploma mills" preys on people who are frustrated that they missed out on the next job on their career ladder because they lacked that all-important "piece of paper".

With advertisements stating "no classes, no studying and no waiting!", many people take this quick but definitely dodgy option to try and get ahead in their career.

Many of these "universities" have impressive names, professional-looking websites, and appear to be accredited through legitimate agencies.

At one "university", you can order a bachelor's degree for US$370 ($455).

You don't just receive a professional-looking degree certificate; you also get two original transcripts, an award of excellence, a certificate of distinction and four education verification letters.

For only $620 you can upgrade to a doctorate degree, and for $1125 you can get the "super combo", a bachelor's, master's and doctorate, as well as 30 accreditation documents.

At one university I researched, you could also (for an extra fee) gain further security, choosing the date you gained your qualification as well as purchasing their "verification service".

For $250 you could gain a B average and for $375 be awarded straight As.

However, the best part was that you were given a telephone number potential employers could phone to verify your qualifications and grades.

Dialling the number, they would be put through to the "Registrar's Department", where they would be informed that "yes indeed - Mr O'Neil does indeed have a doctor of jurisprudence. Straight As too, his record states!".

With more than 500 of these "universities" internationally, projections are that the fake qualifications industry makes in excess of $300 million a year.

However for those who genuinely wish to upgrade their qualifications without spending years at university, there is a viable alternative.

RPL or Recognition of Prior Learning is one of a number of similar terms used to award value for life experience that is equivalent to the learning outcomes of a course or qualification. Otago Polytechnic, Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) all offer this unique (but just as viable) way to gain a qualification.

Sue Bartlett, team leader academic centre at the Manukau Institute of Technology, explains: "You go through an assessment of prior learning, which includes formal and informal learning, work and life experience, as well as your currency of knowledge and skills. As a result of this process you may be awarded a whole or portion of a qualification based on the recognition of that prior learning."

What are the advantages of RPL?

As a whole, RPL has a number of benefits over traditional lecture-type education. Generally speaking:

* RPL allows you to complete tertiary qualifications in a smaller period of time and at a far reduced cost.

* You don't have to redo learning that you have already gained.

* RPL increases your career and education opportunities through documented skills and knowledge.

Gaining a qualification this way is quite straightforward according to Ms Bartlett.

"The process begins with an inquiry by the client. This initiates a review which is free of charge - we indicate a 10-working-day timeframe. Following the review we will be able to provide a recommendation regarding the likely success of a formal assessment should the client decide to go ahead.

"If the client decides to proceed, we establish a service agreement with the client which outlines what will be assessed and the cost.

"Once the service agreement is signed, the assessor and the client work through the assessment process together, using a wide range of evidence and assessment methods. Once the assessment process is completed, the results are reported through the standard MIT process and the qualification is awarded."

How is learning evaluated?

MIT evaluates client's applications against six key criteria:

1. Authenticity - Do you have evidence of your skills and knowledge? This could include formal qualifications, job descriptions, references and any other material you might have.

2. Currency - Are your skills, knowledge and experience currently operating and in demand in the workforce?

3. Quality - Are your knowledge and skills at a suitable standard for current demands?

4. Relevance - Are your skills and knowledge applicable and relevant to the particular profession?

5. Transferability - Are skills and knowledge gained elsewhere relevant to the particular profession?

6. Validity - Can you demonstrate the skills required for the course?


For those people facing promotion challenges later in their career, RPL could be a real answer to their prayers.

"Sometimes clients come across an invisible glass ceiling - promotions are going to people that are younger and who on paper appear more highly qualified for the position," explains Ms Bartlett.

"This is where further qualifications and recognition could be the difference between getting, and not getting, your next job."

Tom O'Neil is a leading international author, career specialist and MD of CV.CO.NZ. You can email him at tom@cv.co.nz