Business, higher education, and policymakers explore the role of the recognition of prior learning in addressing skills needs and developing talent

Published: 2 Mar, 2023

Leaders and policymakers in higher education and enterprise came together today, Thursday, 2 March, for the first time to explore the role of ‘Recognition of Prior Learning’ (RPL) in upskilling, reskilling, and retaining key members of the workforce.

With RPL, a learner can get recognition from a higher education institution for the prior learning they have done in work, life and the community, which in turn can provide a pathway to and through higher education. Using RPL, a higher education institution gives recognition for what someone already knows, understands and can do before, for example, starting on a programme or module. This eliminates the duplication of learning, meaning they don’t have to relearn things they already know.

Today, a dedicated online resource for learners, businesses, and higher education institutions was launched at This website is a jumping-off point for anyone seeking to engage with RPL as a route to higher education and will provide businesses and enterprises with an understanding of how RPL can benefit workers.

“Recognition of Prior Learning has been with us on an ad hoc basis for many years”, according to Jan Cairns, TU Dublin Project Lead for the National RPL in Higher Education Project. “Throughout this five-year project, fourteen higher education institutions are working together with employers and stakeholders to embed RPL in our policies and practices and promote it to a diverse audience”.  

“Today is all about bringing higher education leaders and policy-makers together with enterprise to explore how we can use RPL to increase access to higher education programmes and progression opportunities to meet current skills needs. We want to be able to enhance our ability to work with businesses collaboratively to create professional development opportunities for staff, develop useful tools, resources, and materials to enable that, and to help them retain and build on their workforce’s existing knowledge and skills.”

Claire McGee, Head of Education and Innovation Policy at Ibec, added, “Staff hiring and retention is a huge issue for employers. In the ‘war for talent’, RPL can help employers to develop from within and retain employees through contributing to career progression whilst also boosting employee motivation, confidence and self-esteem.

“This is a pivotal time for business in Ireland as we deal with the twin transitions of climate change and digitalisation, amplified by shifting demographics, global migration and displacement, and the fallout from Covid and Brexit. It is, therefore, critical that we build resilient and empowered communities and workplaces which not only survive but thrive in this context of continued change and uncertainty. For that, we need people from all walks of life to engage more frequently in higher education and having their prior learning recognised means they can build on what they already know, without having to ‘start from scratch’.

Today we heard great examples where RPL helped employees and enterprise save time and money in obtaining qualifications. When RPL is done at scale, with cohorts of employees, we see real potential to address skills needs more effectively and efficiently. The learning from today clearly demonstrates that RPL is not a ‘nice-to-have’ or ‘optional extra’, rather an essential component of an accessible, flexible and responsive higher education system.”