Validation of prior learning has been high on the political agenda since 1999 when the government was tasked with establishing a system that gives adults the right to document the learning outcomes and competencies acquired in non-formal and informal settings without having to undergo traditional forms of testing.
Challenges and opportunities
The recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning in Norway prioritises adults who have not completed formal education, offering them a possibility to enter formal education at the right level based on their prior learning.
National standards, policy and framework activity
Validation of Prior Learning (VPL) is an important component of lifelong learning reform and the so called Competence Reform (kompetansereformen), which was introduced in 1997 (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, 1997a). The Competence Reform aims to meet the need for new or changed competences in society, in the workplace and at the individual level (Ministry of Education and Research, 1997b). To accomplish the Competence Reform, the Validation Project (Realkompetanseprosjektet) was given the mandate to form the foundation for a national system for validation of non-formal and informal learning during 1999-2002.
As a result of the Competence Reform of 1997 adults without lower secondary and upper secondary education (including Vocational Education and Training (VET)) were given the statutory right to have their prior learning validated. In addition, according to the amendment to the act of 2001 relating to universities and university colleges, adults without a general college and university admission certificate can apply for admission to higher education on the basis of their documented prior learning. The applicant must be over 25 years of age. The act also allows for exemption from parts of a study programme on the basis of a validation of prior learning, i.e. where an applicant’s competences from prior learning are of equal worth to the learning outcomes of the course or parts of a study programme
Enrollment in tertiary vocational education is usually based on a vocational diploma from upper secondary education. Since 2003 candidates without a vocational diploma are also entitled to apply for enrollment if they can prove relevant competence from prior learning according to the requirements for admittance in the specific institution. The student may also be allowed exemptions from parts of study programs based on prior learningWith regard to further developments, the Government’s white paper Report No. 16 (2006–2007) (Ministry of Education) on early intervention for lifelong learning focused on the national system for documenting and validating the non-formal and informal learning of adults. The government’s initiative on Lifelong Learning 2009 states that the system for validation of prior learning must be promoted and strengthened. A Government’s white paper Report No. 16 (2015-2016) suggests a new learning pathway for adults in VET based on validation of non-formal and informal learning.
The Ministry of Education and Research appointed a committee to investigate how to reference non-formal learning to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). So far the NQF is been closely linked to the formal education system, describing levels of competences acquired through formal schooling. Many stakeholders are especially interested in making visible the vast reservoir of experiential learning from working life, which today is mainly documented within sectoral recognition systems, but is not visible in the NQF. The Committee presented a report in April 2015 suggesting two different models for linking non-fomal learning to NQF.
As a follow up of OECD Skills Strategy Action Report 2014 the Norwegian Ministry of Education and research has initiated a national work to develop a national and holistic skills strategy. Vox has the role as secretariat for the process, working closely with all the national stakeholders. Validation of prior learning will be one of many subjects in these strategy discussions.
While the Ministry of Education and Research has the main regulatory responsibility at all levels of education, equally important are social partners – professional associations and trade unions -, both nationally and regionally, for realising policy goals and recognition practice. The new basic agreement for 2014 - 17 between the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO) and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) emphasises the importance of making prior learning visible, stating in § 18–-4 for the Documentation of prior learning (i.e., informal learning): “It is important that the enterprise has a system for documenting the individual’s experience, courses and practice related to the employment.” (Norway. LO and NHO, 2009, p. 42). Professional associations and trade unions offer, for example, apprenticeships and other training schemes in enterprises locally, thus supporting adults in VET schemes.
Skills Norway (former The Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning, Vox) is the body designated by the Ministry of Education in 1999 to work on VPL at the national level. In the past two years, Skills Norway has been responsible for developing guidelines for validation towards enrolment in tertiary vocational education and towards exemption in higher education. Skills Norway has developed these guidelines in cooperation with relevant stakeholders from the sectors. In addition, in 2013, the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training developed national guidelines for VPL in lower and upper secondary education. Skills Norway cooperates with NGOs and social partners in order to further adult learning in working life.
There are still challenges in the validation of non-formal and informal learning. A Skills Norway report has shown that only 26 per cent of employees are sufficiently informed about their rights and opportunities and calls for a more targeted information strategy (Guthu and Bekkevold, 2010). Also, the co-operation between the Labour and Welfare Administration and the county centres responsible for the recognition of learning at upper secondary level needs further strengthening. The Skills Norway report (2010) has highlighted the importance of improving co-operation at county level between the different sectors and draws attention to the need for greater cooperation between the different levels of the education system.
The social partners will be deeply involved in the national work to develop a national and holistic skills strategy initiated by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and research. RVA of workplace learning is a subject of interest in this work.
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Skills policies and strategies