5. Recognition of Prior Learning


5.1      The Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL – previously known as ‘APL’) is a process whereby students can be exempt from some parts of their chosen programme of academic study by recognition of their learning from previous experiences or achievements as part of the admissions process.

5.2      Some programmes have approved units/periods of study undertaken at another institution or in the workplace. Where this is a recognised part of an approved programme this policy does not apply.

5.3      The term ‘prior learning’ does not include the learning implicit in formal teaching, a work placement, group work or independent study designed as part of a programme of study alone. Recognition of such parallel learning would be expected to occur in the formal assessment practice of the programme.


5.4      It is the achievement of learning, or outcomes of the learning, and not just the experience of the activities that is being accredited. In all cases evidence must be presented to the University that such learning has taken place.

5.5      Evidence for acceptance of RPL should demonstrate that the learner has a reasonable expectation of satisfactorily completing the programme for which they are applying.

5.6      Students will not be admitted to any programme with prior learning if they already hold a degree in the same subject.

5.7      Students may request to view additional criteria, by which it judges applications for RPL.

5.8      Faculties (i.e. the Faculty Admissions and Recruitment Officer and/or the Faculty Education Director) are responsible for deciding whether to admit a student with recognition of their prior learning and the relevant entry point into the programme, on the recommendation of the school (e.g. the programme director).

5.9      Prior learning will not normally be accepted if five or more years have elapsed since it occurred unless the applicant can provide evidence that their learning has continued in a professional or similar context. In such cases the school may choose to set an assessment to test an applicant's current knowledge.

5.10   To complement the University’s credit framework (see Section 4) the following table shows maximum amounts of credit for each type of programme that can be counted as prior learning.

The maximum amount of certified prior learning may be exceeded where a student is returning to undertake a ‘top-up’ qualification, provided that the lower award is still relevant to the higher qualification.

Award type

Number of credit points for award

Total amount of RPL permitted

Postgraduate Level Award 

Masters Degree



Postgraduate Diploma



Postgraduate Certificate



Undergraduate Level Award 

Graduate Diploma



Graduate Certificate



Integrated Masters Degree

  • Four-year
  • Five-year





Honours Bachelors Degree

  • Three-year
  • Four-year





Undergraduate Diploma



Undergraduate Certificate



Prior learning in the undergraduate professional programmes of BDS, MBChB and BVSc may be accepted in lieu of an individual unit, at the discretion of the relevant Programme Director.

5.11      The conferring of one of the awards listed in the table and the recognition of prior learning within this is complemented by the following:

a)     Sufficient credit at the highest level of the award, as outlined in the University’s credit framework, must be taken at the University of Bristol (or, for a Joint Award, one of its partner institutions) in order for the award to be conferred.

b)     The final 120 credit points of an undergraduate degree programme must be taken and satisfactorily completed at the University of Bristol unless there is a specific agreement to the contrary that has been approved by Senate, therefore it follows that the University will not normally accredit prior learning within the final year of its bachelors and integrated masters programmes.

c)     The dissertation or research component of a taught postgraduate programme must be taken and satisfactorily completed at the University of Bristol (or, for a Joint Award, one of its partner institutions).

Recognising Prior Certified Learning

5.12      Schools should consider the learning which has been accredited and decide, in the best interests of the student, how this can be taken into account. It is at the discretion of the school to decide if: (a) the subject content, and therefore knowledge gained, is sufficiently similar for a student to be exempt from unit(s), and (b) if marks can be transferred.

5.13      Therefore, prior credit obtained from another institution can be recognised in one of two ways:

(a)      Exemption from units, the marks of which do not contribute to the final award and need not be transferred (University of Bristol accepts the credit awarded by another institution);

(b)      Exemption from units, the marks of which do contribute to the final award and are transferred (University of Bristol accepts the credit and marks awarded by another institution towards this award).

5.14      Students who have previously been required to withdraw from a programme will not normally be re-admitted to the same point on a programme by the recognition of the prior learning.

5.15      The requirement to transfer marks may be waived for students transferring into an undergraduate professional programme if there is still a significant proportion (e.g. 360 or more, out of 600 credit points) of the programme to complete.

5.16      Where a student is permitted to top-up a qualification, the lower award is subsumed into the higher award made by the University on conferring of that award, in accordance with the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree Awarding bodies. There is no requirement for a student to ‘hand-in’ the certificate for the lower award in these circumstances.

Recognising Prior Experiential Learning

5.17      Schools should consider each case and decide from which units the student can be exempt. The school should satisfy itself that the applicant has sufficient knowledge and ability to have a reasonable expectation of completing the programme successfully.

5.18      If a school is not satisfied that the experiential learning is equivalent to the standard of unit(s), it may require the applicant to undertake an appropriate method of assessment.

Information on how RPL is applied to the calculation of the final programme mark and/or the degree classification in modular undergraduate programmes with both mark transfer and no mark transfer is provided in guidance.