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European Education Area

Quality education and training for all
Published:  6 May 2022

Recognition of prior learning in Europe

Find out how to have your prior learning recognised when applying to study at universities in Europe.

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Learning takes many shapes and forms. Generally, it is categorised in three groupings

  • formal learning - normally takes place in formal education institutions, such as schools and universities, is typically certified by a qualification or diploma, planned and structured by learning objectives
  • non-formal learning - is usually structured, planned and occurs in the form of activities, such as in-company professional training, but does not always result in a diploma
  • informal learning - is experienced as part of diverse activities, unstructured, includes for example digital skills acquired through leisure activities

To be accepted by higher education institutions as part of the pre-requisites to begin a programme of study or in contribution to a qualification, prior learning needs to be formally recognised.

In some countries, some requirements to begin a programme of study may be fulfilled fulfilled by formally recognised non-formal or informal learning. For example, it may be possible to start a Master’s degree without having completed a Bachelor’s degree, if you can supply formally recognised proof of prior learning in other forms.

How to validate prior learning

To validate prior learning, the following steps are generally required

  • applying for recognition - this may include providing documentation evidencing prior learning and/or the completion of a self-assessment of the skills and competencies declared
  • assessment of the application - can include interviews or further requests for evidence
  • outcome - certification of partial or full qualifications, and/or acceptance as a part of the admission process

You should be aware that not all applications will result in a positive outcome. Each university individually determines the requirements for acceptance onto their programmes.

Top tips

Recognition procedures can be time-consuming and sometimes costly. Before beginning, make sure you

  • carefully check entry requirements for the university and the programme of study you would like to apply for
  • do a self-assessment - are you sure you have the skills and knowledge required by the university? Is your learning up-to-date, or could you benefit from refreshing certain aspects?
  • prepare necessary documents and evidence, such as training certificates and job descriptions
  • contact advice services - often universities have dedicated services who can provide valuable information and insights about the assessments at their institution as part of the recognition process, assist applicants with the self-assessment process and with completing applications
Published:  6 May 2022