Teaching Council Policy Guideline: RPL processes at the University of Tampere

The Teaching Council has approved this document on 1 December 2014.

This is a summary of the guideline. Whole document can be found from the page Teaching Council Policy Guidelines in intra.

NB: This is an unofficial translation. In the event of any discrepancies between the Finnish and English versions, the original Finnish version shall prevail.

The guiding principle of competence-based learning is that there is no reason to demand students to retake courses whose learning outcomes they have already achieved, provided that they can demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a manner determined by the higher education institution in question. (RPL in the HEIsProject, in Finnish AHOT korkeakouluissa -hanke)

Background and objective of the guidelines

A student studying at the University of Tampere may be eligible to transfer credits from studies completed at another Finnish or foreign institution of higher education or some other educational institution (formal learning). Furthermore, the student may also receive credit for skills and knowledge acquired outside formal educational institutions (informal and non-formal learning). The prerequisite for rewarding credit for prior learning is that the existing skills and knowledge meet the learning outcomes set for the degree, study module or course unit in question.

Credit transfer and the processes pertaining to it are referred to as recognition and accreditation of prior learning (RPL), in Finnish AHOT.

Credit transfer is performed according to provisions issued under the Universities Act (558/2009) and the Government Decree on University Degrees and Specialist Education (794/2004).

There are two main types of credit transfer: inclusion and substitution.

  • Inclusion means that previously acquired skills and knowledge are incorporated into the student’s degree. Inclusion does not require correspondence to a certain course unit of the degree described in the curriculum. Decisions on inclusion are made within the relevant faculty.
  • Substitution means that the student is considered to have already completed some of the courses in the curriculum and degree based on his/her previously acquired skills and knowledge. Decisions on substitution are the responsibility of the faculty in question and, within the faculty, of the instructor or another assigned person in charge of the study module or course unit in question.

A significant number of the new students admitted to study at the University has previously completed studies or entire degrees at institutions of higher education. The University of Tampere has long traditions in credit transfer processes, and students’ prior learning is counted towards their degrees as fully as possible. The curricula of the University are competence-based, and the recognition and accreditation of prior learning and credit transfer are always based on the learning outcomes specified in the curriculum. RPL processes draw on the learning outcomes at all levels from course units to study modules and degrees.

The University’s strategy and quality management system provide that procedures are standardised where reasonable and possible. In order to ensure the legal protection of students, equal treatment and consistency are adhered to in decisions concerning the recognition of prior learning and credit transfer. A functional and timely RPL process offers great advantages for both individual students and the University, as well as supports the quality management of education.

Effective RPL processes facilitate entry into studies and promote their smooth progress. Recognition of prior learning and credit transfer enable students to complete their studies more efficiently. When the students who have already achieved the learning outcomes can use their prior learning to substitute for studies belonging to their degree, they are able to complete study modules and smoothly progress in their studies. At the same time, more places on these courses will be available for other students.

The purpose of this policy guideline is to support the University’s faculties in, first, taking the RPL processes into account in curriculum design and, second, in applying the curricula more fully and uniformly to the RPL and credit transfer processes.

Curriculum design, learning outcomes and RPL

A competence-based approach and diversity provide a basis for designing curricula at the University of Tampere. The University’s Teaching Council has outlined on the competence-based nature of educational planning as follows: “The competence-based approach is cross-sectional in nature, which means that all levels of degrees have set learning outcomes, based on which studies are then outlined.” The learning outcomes defined for degree programmes, study modules and course units are relevant in assessing, recognising and accrediting prior learning. The learning outcomes enable students to assess their own prior learning and the possibility of receiving credit for their previously acquired skills and knowledge.

The competence-based approach also serves those who are applying to study or are interested in education. The learning outcomes set for degrees can also be viewed at the national opintopolku.fi portal.


Degree levels and a degree as a comprehensive whole

The National Framework for Qualifications and Other Learning (Reports of the Ministry of Education and Culture 2009:24) describes the learning outcomes of degrees at a general level and creates the preconditions for defining the learning outcomes in more detail as well as for assessing students’ prior learning at different degree levels. Bachelor’s degrees (university / university of applied sciences) are at level six (6) of the framework, Master’s degrees (university/UAS) at level seven (7) and doctoral degrees at level eight (8).

The Bachelor’s degrees of both universities and universities of applied sciences in the Finnish higher education system are placed at the same level of the framework and as they both grant eligibility to pursue a Master’s degree; therefore, they are also treated in the same way in RPL processes. Thus, in the case of both complete and incomplete degrees taken at universities of applied sciences, study attainments of the corresponding level can substitute for or be included in a student’s degree at the University of Tampere, provided that the set learning outcomes have been achieved. Studies included in a Bachelor’s degree cannot be counted towards a Master’s degree.

A lower university degree grants eligibility to pursue a degree on the next level and is thus a prerequisite for completing a higher university degree. The skills levels described in the National Framework for Qualifications and Other Learning support the assessment of skills when evaluating a student’s ability to proceed to the next level of study. It must be taken into account that the skills required of students to earn a Bachelor’s degree, for instance, do not necessarily correspond to the skills required of students starting to pursue a Master’s degree; the former case is about achieving the learning outcomes set for the degree and for the courses belonging to it, whereas the latter is about assessing whether the student possesses the skills required to proceed to higher degree studies (see also the Study Services guideline The development of student admission processes and Curriculum design, Opiskelijavalinnan kehittäminen ja opetussuunnitelmatyö – unfortunately, the guideline is only available in Finnish).

The compulsory studies mentioned in section 25 of the University of Tampere’s Regulations on Degrees refer to the degree programme’s own studies as well as to free choice studies and language and communication studies, that is, to all courses belonging to a degree – to the course units that the students need to complete in order to earn the degree. However, the prior study attainments to be counted towards the degree must be in accordance with the curricula of the University of Tampere and meet the learning outcomes set for the degree in question. Thus, also in this context, the curriculum and the learning outcomes defined in it constitute the basis for assessing prior learning.

Academic counselling and RPL

Credit transfer is part of students’ personal study planning and personal study counselling (HOPS) where, among other things, students’ prior learning is assessed for its potential to be counted towards a degree taken at the University of Tampere and to estimate how the degree’s learning outcomes have been achieved (see the Teaching Council Policy Guideline of 8 September 2014: Good practices in curriculum design).

To ensure that students would begin to progress in their studies as smoothly as possible right from the start, the opportunity for credit transfer is mentioned already at the admission stage and again during the orientation studies. The aim is that an RPL process would already be completed before the new student starts at the University of Tampere. Credit transfer at a later stage is encouraged where appropriate and justified. The role of the student in the RPL process is active, and the process is usually prompted by the student himself/herself. The faculties should take into account the RPL process and the academic counselling relating to it in their curricula, as well as in designing and implementing academic counselling as a comprehensive system.

RPL process at the application stage

The faculties have no obligation to assess the prior learning of a potential student or applicant before the application process. Potential applicants may assess their own skills with the help of the University’s competence-based curricula. In separate admissions, the applicants’ prior learning is assessed in connection with the application process, and those admitted to study will receive a preliminary estimation of the supplementary studies before their studies begin. RPL decisions may, however, be made only after the student has been granted the right to study and has enrolled as present at the University of Tampere.

Skills assessment and modes of study

The modes of study determined for a course unit in the curriculum may not restrict the possibility for credit transfer. This means that it is not justified to require that the prior study attainments would have been completed in the same manner in which the course unit to be substituted is designed to be completed according to the curriculum. What counts is the ability to demonstrate skills and knowledge that meet the set learning outcomes. To demonstrate and evaluate students’ skills and knowledge, it is recommended to use different types of skills assessments that are in line with the learning outcomes. The forms of demonstration may be the same as the modes of study described in the curriculum, but may also differ from them. RPL processes and the ways of demonstrating prior learning are planned as part of curriculum design in order to predict and manage the workload of course instructors.

Extent and grade of the recognised studies

As the recognised study attainments are recorded, their extent is always determined in credits; thus, prior study attainments are never entered into the student register as zero credits. The number of credits is entered according to the University’s curricula and based on an assessment of how well the learning outcomes described in the curricula have been achieved. A course unit may also be only partly substituted.

In considering applications for credit transfer, the final decision is determined by the learning outcomes, not the number of credits. If a student has completed a course unit worth four (4) credits and wishes to use it to substitute for a course unit worth five (5) credits, the substitutability is assessed case-specifically on the basis of the learning outcomes, not the number of credits. All recognised study attainments will be graded on the scale from 1 to 5, unless there is a special reason to do otherwise. Examples of special reasons include that the prior study attainment has only been assigned the grade pass or fail before, or that the pass/fail grading scale is applied to the course unit to be substituted at the University of Tampere.

Expiry of studies

The basic principle is that completed degrees and compulsory language and communication studies do not expire. In the case of individual course units or subunits, prior learning is assessed in relation to the learning outcomes specified in the prevailing curriculum. The starting point for the quality assurance of degrees is that the study attainments to be recognised may not have been completed more than ten (10) years ago. If the study attainments are more than 10 years old, the required skills and knowledge can naturally be demonstrated by other means, such as in the form of a skills assessment.

Language and communication studies

The compulsory language studies belonging to a degree (mother tongue, second national language and foreign language) may be substituted based on language skills demonstrated for a previously completed university or UAS degree. Although the extent of the language studies completed would differ from the scale used at the University of Tampere, the substitutive study attainment will be entered into the student register with the same number of credits as the course unit to be substituted comprises. Field-specificity is not required in the case of university-level language studies, but is currently required in the case of studies completed at universities of applied sciences.

Language studies belonging to a degree cannot be substituted on the basis of grades only with language studies completed for the Finnish Matriculation Examination, International Baccalaureate (IB) or an equivalent degree, or on the basis of work experience alone. However, students may demonstrate their skills to receive credit for their language studies.

Language studies required for a Licentiate Degree in Medicine may be substituted only with language studies completed at another university for an equivalent Licentiate Degree in Medicine.

In principle, the substituted language and communication studies are not graded on the numerical but on the pass/fail scale.

Studies completed abroad

An exchange period is planned as part of a degree and when compiling the student’s personal study plan (HOPS). Studies taken abroad should be planned in advance to ensure that the credits from the courses offered by the foreign university can be transferred to the student’s degree when returning to the University of Tampere. A study plan is prepared for every exchange period. In the Erasmus exchange programme, the plan is always outlined using a special learning agreement form, in which the student lists the studies he/she plans to complete at the foreign university and that is submitted for approval.

For more information on credit transfer from studies completed abroad, please visit here.

The European Recognition Manual for Higher Education Institutions

Skills acquired outside formal education institutions

Knowledge and skills may also be acquired through unofficial aka non-formal learning (continuing studies, liberal adult education) as well as through everyday aka informal learning (work or hobbies, positions of trust). Skills acquired through informal or non-formal learning must also meet the learning outcomes set for the courses to be substituted, and the student must demonstrate his/her skills (e.g. with a certificate of employment, diploma, portfolio, publication or other written document) so that the level of skills can be assessed. Furthermore, the student may also be required to demonstrate his/her skills by other means, such as by writing an essay, taking a written or oral exam or by participating in an interview. For skills and knowledge acquired through positions of trust, the student may be awarded a maximum of ten (10) credits. For further description of the issue, please see the Rector’s decision of 27 September 2011.

Credit transfer and RPL for Open University courses and non-degree studies

Credit transfer and RPL processes for Open University courses and other non-degree studies are the same as for other forms of education.

Request for rectification

A student dissatisfied with a decision concerning recognition of prior learning may apply for rectification of the decision either orally or in writing. The request for rectification should be addressed to the person who made the decision, and it must be lodged within 14 days of receiving the notification of the decision. (The University of Tampere’s Regulations on Degrees §27) If a student is dissatisfied with the decision taken on the request for rectification, he/she may appeal to the University’s Appeals Committee within 14 days of receipt of the decision, in accordance with section 16 of the Regulations of the University of Tampere. The decision of the Appeals Committee is final and cannot be appealed.

Entering recognised studies into the student register

When study attainments completed elsewhere are entered into the student register, the type of the study attainment should be specified in the entry; this can be, for example, a course completed at another higher education institution, a portfolio, working life skills, etc. The register entry should clearly note that the credits have been completed outside the University of Tampere.