Accreditation of Prior Learning and Experience

It is possible to bring multiple external resources into the OXCEL certification programme for credit. The most obvious way that this is done is through the assessment of prior certificated learning (APL) and the assessment of prior experiential learning (APEL) which considers previous formal and informal learning respectively that has a bearing on the certificate or diploma award that is desired.

OXCEL offers a progressive programme of APEL aimed at the working professional. APEL applies the learning gained in professional experience via the submission and assessment of a formal portfolio of evidence for award credit. It is suitable for mature professionals who wish to recognise their valuable learning in an employment context and beyond. There is no minimum period of enrolment for a APEL award other than the time required for assessment (see below). However, APEL is not an “easy route” to an award since considerable documentary evidence is required before credit can be awarded.

Most frequently, APEL is combined with a dissertation and is used to reduce the dissertation requirements. However, it can be integrated into other programme routes at OXCEL and in the case of highly experienced candidates it may be possible for them to qualify by APEL alone.

Some background

Since the nineteenth-century, universities, particularly in the United States, have established arrangements for students to receive credits that recognize life experiences or achievements that are deemed to be equivalent to particular levels of formal academic study. As an example of this, Americans returning from war service in the military were permitted to continue their tertiary education by substituting their life experiences for examination results. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a US non-profit body, has, since its foundation in 1974, published advisory recommendations for the conversion of particular prior learning deriving from life experiences so that a student may then obtain an exemption from formal academic study.

Not all life experiences qualify for exemption – only those that have demonstrated learning that is the equivalent of college credit. OXCEL has many years of experience in this area, including among its Fellows and Mentors several experts who have been professionally engaged in experiential assessment as part of national immigration processes.

“It is immoral to teach someone something he or she already knows.”
Elizabeth Monroe Drews, former Professor of Education, Michigan State University

“… assessment which is only available to those enrolled on a course severely restricts the variety of methods of learning which may be used. We must therefore seek to separate assessment from courses or programmes of learning. If we can do this, it will mean that any means of learning – by course, employment, open or distance-learning, private study etc – can be used to gain the competence needed for an award. It would greatly increase flexibility if assessment could also be offered to all who are ready for it; in other words, we should seek to provide assessment on demand.”
National Council for Vocational Qualifications in England (UPDATE, No. 1, 1989)

External resources

In addition, it is possible to take courses at other providers – which may not make formal awards of their own – and accumulate these for credit towards an OXCEL award. One popular option is the “top-up award” where an existing professional certificate or diploma can be converted to an OXCEL award by the completion of a dissertation or professional project.

It is also possible for external mentors to be brought into the OXCEL programme, subject to OXCEL approval in each case. This enables a greater breadth of expertise to be drawn upon and even the assessment of particular areas in which OXCEL does not currently appoint mentors. The external mentors, usually serving or emeritus faculty at another institution, are contracted by the student to assess the work concerned and OXCEL then convenes a moderation panel to consider the outcome. At all points the student will have an OXCEL mentor appointed for support and academic liaison.

Converting Experience to Education

Only those with a minimum of three years of full-time professional experience (or an equivalent in part-time work or via a combination of education and experience) may be admitted to the APEL procedure.

Like other institutions employing APEL and similar methods, OXCEL has based its standards on the recommendations of university authorities in the United States, where APEL has been most consistently pioneered, as an overall basis for converting professional experience to education.

The guidelines are as follows:

Up to the level of four years of postsecondary education
Every three years of professional experience are considered equivalent to one year of education.

From four to six years of postsecondary education
The applicant must have the equivalent of four years of postsecondary education (through the formula whereby every three years of professional experience are considered equivalent to one year of education, or a combination of education and experience) and then a further five years of professional experience (2.5 years for year five and another 2.5 for year six).

For senior OXCEL awards
The applicant must have the equivalent of six years of postsecondary education (through the experience formula above or a combination of education and experience) and demonstrate to the satisfaction of OXCEL that he or she has additional experience that places him or her at the forefront of professional life, amounting to at least a further two years of education. It is usual that portfolios at the doctoral level will include significant published work such as books, research articles or creative output that definitively establishes the standing of the candidate.

How is credit awarded?

At OXCEL, we use the methods of prior learning portfolio, past college credit and professional certification to determine the award of credit in our APEL programme, and require considerable documentation of prior learning before a certificate or diploma is awarded. In addition, the claimed standing of each candidate is externally verified wherever possible. We only award credit when the work experience demonstrated is equivalent to knowledge gained at college level and as a result a certificate or diploma earned via APEL is equivalent to one earned through a more traditional taught or research route. Assessors for the APEL programmes include faculty who are highly experienced in this field. In short, the process is thorough, rigorous and is not an “easy” way to earn an award.

General assessment of experiential learning

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) based in Chicago, The American Council on Education, the University of the State of New York, and other international educational agencies – for example, the Credit Accumulation Transfer Scheme (CATS) in the United Kingdom – have established and published comprehensive guidelines for converting prior learning and experience into academic credit. It is estimated that over 2,000 colleges and universities worldwide now follow these and other guidelines, or have adapted them to meet their own needs and situations. For example, according to the guidelines of the Modern Language Association, perfect fluency in a second language is equivalent to 36 of the 120 required credits at the bachelor’s level at an American university. A private pilot’s license is equivalent to 6 to 15 credits depending on its type. Various military or company-sponsored courses are worth anywhere from 1 to 40 credits depending on the academic level to be earned. “Principles of Good Practice in Assessing Experiential Learning” (Warren W. Willingham, 1977), a publication of the former Co-operative for the Advancement of Experiential Learning (subsequently the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning: CAEL) summarizes the situation clearly:

“…all learning in order to be most effective should have both an experiential and a theoretic component.”

CAEL has sought to emphasize assessment of adult learning in situations in which:

“…the priority is upon observing, interacting, performing, making things happen, feeling the effects of … activities, noting responses of others, etc…”

Assessment and application procedures

Initial assessment

The first stage is an initial assessment to ascertain whether the applicant meets the criteria for acceptance into the programme. The applicant must first formally apply. On receipt of an acknowledgement of their application, they must compile and present a portfolio and submit this electronically via email (or in some cases, via postal mail) according to the instructions given.

In order to protect students from a high initial outlay against an uncertain outcome, there is a multi-stage fee structure for APEL programmes. This means that students who are not successful in the programme will be liable only for the first stage of these fees. The first stage is the Initial Fee, payable online. This fee is not refundable except in accordance with the standard Refund Policy.

The portfolio should consist of the following materials: a full resumé or curriculum vitæ; full transcripts and documentation of all previous post-secondary education; references from employers confirming the dates and responsibilities of employment positions held; publications; reports in journals and similar evidence. Affidavits from co-workers or yourself are also acceptable. All documentation must be in English and foreign language documents must be accompanied by a translation. OXCEL does not provide a translation service, though there are many available on the internet. OXCEL requests that materials be compressed in a .zip or .rar file before sending, in order to avoid difficulties in transmission of large files.

OXCEL accepts transfer credit from other educational institutions, always on a case by case basis, without limit to the transfer that is possible. We do not accept transfer credit into an APEL programme from institutions that do not, in our judgement, award credits responsibly. In such cases, the candidate will need to find alternative ways to prove the knowledge and skills asserted in their educational record.

OXCEL has experienced specialists on hand to assess APEL portfolios. All assessors must hold graduate-level qualifications; for senior awards they must hold a doctorate or its equivalent; and have previous experience of examining at the required level.

The assessor may ask the applicant for further documentation and interview them via email or telephone on any areas that need clarification. The assessor may conduct verification procedures concerning the evidence submitted or delegate these procedures to third parties. The identity of assessors will only be disclosed to the student where the assessor in question has given specific permission to be so identified. This policy is to protect the assessors from the possibility of being unfairly influenced or otherwise contacted by candidates during or after their deliberations.

The assessor will make a formal report within 60 days and will determine either that the candidate is provisionally qualified for the award that they have applied for, or for a lesser award, or for no award.

If the candidate qualifies for the award on the basis of portfolio assessment alone

If the candidate qualifies for the award for which they have applied after portfolio assessment, they proceed to the formal candidature stage and pay the formal Graduation Fee online. Once this is received they will graduate and receive their award without further requirements.

If the candidate does not qualify for the award on the basis of portfolio assessment alone

If the candidate does not wish to accept any lesser awarded, or is not recommended for any award, they may opt to become a candidate for the award they wish to earn by completing a dissertation or equivalent professional project in their field. The length and scope of the dissertation will depend on the amount of APEL credit awarded and will be advised by OXCEL individually. The candidate will be assigned a Mentor or may propose a Mentor by agreement with OXCEL. The dissertation or project will be examined by OXCEL in the usual manner, and if successful, the candidate will be cleared to graduate.

The fee for this stage is included in the Initial Fee described above, but there is also an annual continuation fee payable on the anniversary of matriculation and a Graduation Fee if successful.

Graduation documentation

Successful applicants receive an official diploma of their certificate or diploma award in OXCEL’s standard format. Rather than a transcript, graduates receive an official attestation of graduation under seal following the portfolio deliberation, which typically includes a report listing and commenting on the materials assessed.


Should documents be found after verification to be inauthentic, misrepresented or altered in any material fashion, the candidate will be dismissed from the programme without refund of fees and debarred from further study and candidature at OXCEL. OXCEL reserves the right to report cases of fraudulent misrepresentation to law enforcement officials. Where such a discovery is made after a candidate has graduated, the award conferred may additionally be rescinded.