What is Recognition of Prior Learning?

Recognition of Prior Learning is often used, but what does the term mean? Find out below.

Recognition of Prior Learning


Have you ever applied for further studies and seen the term “Recognition of Prior Learning” being used. You might have asked yourself what it means and how it is relevant to you. Skills Academy wants to help you understand the term and how it could possibly benefit you. 

What Does Recognition of Prior Learning Mean?


In your lifetime you have obtained certain skills, qualifications, knowledge and experiences. These learning experiences could have been officially obtained via a college, university or any other accredited education body.  You could have also gained this knowledge while at the workplace, doing short courses or compulsory training. Irrespective of where this learning took place, you can use the skills and qualifications you already have to gain credits within formal qualifications offered by various colleges and universities.

 Recognition of Prior Learning provides an opportunity for you to identify your learning, have it assessed and formally acknowledged in the form of a qualification.

How Does it Work?


The process is simple and straightforward – your skills will be assessed on the skills or  knowledge you have, regardless of where and how it was learned.  Unlike other forms of assessment, it doesn’t judge someone’s evidence of competence solely by the credentials or qualifications they have achieved, although this can form part of their claim. What RPL actually does is allow people to demonstrate that they are capable of undertaking specific tasks or working in certain industries based on evidence of skills and knowledge gained throughout their life. Anyone can apply for recognition of prior learning and is usually used for:

  • personal development and/or certification of current skills without progression into a learning programme, if the candidate so chooses
  • progression into a learning programme, using RPL to fast-track progression through the learning programme;
  • promotion
  • career or job change

Recognition of prior learning can be greatly beneficial and really fast-track your progress in a learning programme. 

Study group sitting together and taking notes

Recognition of Prior Learning in South Africa


South Africa has a nuanced and complex past. Therefore, RPL is a way to widen access and open new pathways into formal education and work-based training offered by learning institutions. Through this past injustices are able to be addressed and rectified. In terms of access, the target group may be under-qualified adult learners (such as teachers or nurses), with some level of professional education wanting to up-skill and improve their qualifications.

It may also include candidates lacking the minimum requirements for entry into a formal learning programme (e.g. matriculation endorsement). These candidates may be on the shop floor, in workplaces, or may be semi-skilled and unemployed. They may have worked for many years and have gained experience in specific areas, but were prevented from developing and growing because of the education and training policies of the past. 

The Benefits of RPL


Recognition of Prior Learning is useful to everyone including both employers and students. The benefits of RPL include:

  1.  Facilitates access for ‘non-traditional’ students – people who may not have had the opportunity to do further study.
  2. Acknowledges value of learning outside a formal setting, e.g. values and recognises learning in the workplace.
  3. Validates the worth of learning students have achieved by themselves
  4. Enables students to progress to other education and training programmes
  5. Eliminates unnecessary repetition and duplication of material already familiar to the student.
  6. Shortens the time necessary to earn a qualification – this motivates students who might otherwise be discouraged by the length of time required to
  7. efficient identification of ‘skills gaps’ allowing for more focused training

How Much Does it Cost?


Fees for RPL services and assessment should not cost more than a full-time face-to-face programme, particularly if such services are integrated into the existing infrastructure.

The cost of developing a system and the necessary capacity to support the system, are not unlike the costs of developing a new learning programme. This means that the initial start-up costs may be relatively high, but increasingly, with learners entering such a programme, the costs are reduced and spread over a period of time.

The challenge is to develop programmes and services where one-on-one contact with a candidate is kept to the minimum. RPL does not mean that each candidate must be dealt with only on an individual basis. In principle, RPL should be more cost-effective for candidates, employers and employees by reducing the cost of training in terms of those parts of the qualification for which the candidate already meets the requirements.

RPL for ICB Students


The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) offers an RPL programme for learners. To be considered for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and get credit towards an ICB qualification, your previous qualifications or part-qualifications must be registered on the NQF and should have been attained within the last five years. If your NQF-registered qualifications are more than five years old, you will also need to provide proof of more recent, relevant work experience.

Requirements for applying  for RPL with the ICB

  • Submit the ICB Student Details Form along with proof of payment of the ICB’s RPL administration fee.
  • Submit your detailed CV.
  • Submit transcripts of any formal registered qualifications you hold.
  • Submit the accreditation number of the training provider who awarded your previous qualifications / part-qualifications (e.g. DHET, Seta’s QASP, Umalusi, CHE).
  • Submit the NQF level and SAQA qualification registration number for your previous courses.
  • The ICB will review your application and may offer you credits based on subjects you’ve already passed, or ask you to complete a RPL Portfolio of Evidence (PoE).
  • If you qualify for exemptions and want to accept the credits, you will need to pay another fee to be granted full or conditional exemptions.
  • You must also be registered with the ICB.

Guideline for Application for Recognition of Prior Learning


If you have studied similar courses previously, or have relevant work experience, you can apply for RPL with the ICB. Applications must be based on NQF registered qualifications and need to be submitted with the following documentation:

  • proof of provider accreditation (some examples are: DHET, Seta’s QAP, Umalusi, CHE)
  • NQF level
  • SAQA qualification registration number. For all exemptions applied for, qualifications must have been obtained within the last 5 years within the last 5 years within the last 5 years i.e. “current” per SAQA requirements or if qualifications are older than 5 years, they must still be NQF registered together with current relevant work experience with current relevant work experience with current relevant work experience.

How to apply for RPL with the ICB

Step 1: Fill in the Learner Details form (tick – Apply for Recognition of Prior Learning block).

Step 2: Pay the RPL application fee.

Step 3: Post, fax or email the following documents to the ICB and tick each to show that all documents are attached. Documents required for review:

  • Tick Learner details form Copy of your payment deposit slip / proof of payment.
  • A copy of this letter, with the acceptance section below signed Official copies of your previous course results (transcript of results), obtained from a registered/accredited training provider Note: Foreign qualifications Foreign qualifications Foreign qualifications need a SAQA “Certificate of Evaluation” included.
  • A detailed CV explaining your work experience and including references from relevant jobs
  • A copy of your ID book
  • A letter from your Manager confirming work experience (if applicable)

Step 4: Review Process: Once the ICB’s Exemptions Review Board has reviewed your application, which can take up to 6 weeks, they will write to you with their decision. You could receive specific subject exemptions or even a full qualification exemption. Feedback will be given by learning area (subject) and could be:

  • Full Exemption granted If the ICB recognises your previous studies and grants you credit for equivalent subjects, you will need to pay an exemption fee per subject granted.
  • Exemption not granted If the ICB does not feel that your previous qualification(s) or work experience match part or all of the learning outcomes of the subjects you are applying for.
  • Conditional exemption granted. This means you don’t qualify for the full exemption but can submit more evidence without having to write an exam. You will however, be required to complete a Portfolio of Evidence (PoE) assessment provided by the ICB to prove your competency in a particular subject.

You will need to pay a RPL fee for each subject.

Once they have received your proof of payment, they will send you the RPL PoE for you to complete for each subject granted and submit it by the “Due Date.” You must do all the assessments in the Portfolios and then send them back to the ICB for final assessment. They will review them and let you know the outcome 7-8 weeks after the due date stated on the PoE label. The completion of an RPL PoE is regarded as an assessment entry and all the policies and procedures with regards to ICB assessments apply.

If you are assessed as ‘exempt’, you will get full exemption for that particular learning area. If you are ‘unsuccessful’, you’ll need to register in order to study the learning areas and enter for the assessments/exams.

Step 5: Compulsory Student Registration: In order to accept any exemptions granted, you will need to be a registered learner of the ICB. If you are not yet an ICB learner, you will need to pay the annual student registration fee. Thereafter, if you continue as a learner, the registration fee will be payable each calendar year.

Step 6: Conditions:

  • The above fees and exemption opportunities are valid for six (6) months from date of this letter. If you have not accepted and paid for these exemptions within six (6) months, you will need to contact us. Please note: if the fees change within the six (6) month period, learners will be liable to pay the balance of the new fees.
  • Qualification Certificates are only issued once a full qualification is obtained.
  • No certificates are issued for exempted learning areas/subjects.
  • No refunds for Exemption Fees will be given under any circumstances. It is the student’s responsibility to fully understand the process and implications before accepting these exemptions.
  • Please ensure that you submit all your documents. Please ensure that you submit all your documentation upfront because the ICB n upfront because the ICB Board will base their decision on this alone. Any Board will base their decision on this alone. Additional documentation submitted after the initial application, will require the process to start from the beginning and start from the beginning and another application fee will be due.
  • Payment of annual student registration fee is for STUDENT REGISTRATION (no certificate issued.) Membership may be applied and paid for, via the ICBA.

The ICB will review your application and may offer you credits based on subjects you’ve already passed, or ask you to complete a RPL Portfolio of Evidence (PoE).

In short, RPL is fantastic to get a qualification without having to start from scratch. You can be recognised for all your hard work over the years and get a recognised qualification.

Want to Know More? Contact us Today!


Have any questions and enquiries about recognition of prior learning? Get in contact with one of our friendly consultants today. 

  1. Fill out an online registration form. 
  2. Call us for free on 0800 39 0027
  3. Message us on Whatsapp at 082 318 8892 
Last Updated: November 2, 2020


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Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
I am dedicated to creating engaging online content. I enjoy reading, writing and popular culture. House Ravenclaw. View my LinkedIn

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