By Laura Clark
Daily mail August 2003
FORMER drug addicts are being offered a shortcut to a university degree on the basis of the ‘valuable life experience’ they have gained. They will be allowed to skip extensive periods of formal study if they can prove their ordeal and recovery was relevant to their course.
The astonishing deal is being offered as part of a new higher education scheme titled the Accreditiation of Prior Experiential Learning, which allows universities to waive up to two thirds of courses if students can show their previous experience overlaps with material covered in lessons.
This has been interpreted by Glasgow Caledonian University to offer recovering drug addicts the chance to offset formal study in the preliminary stages of a social science degree.
Another university advises students they may be able to count holiday work as a lifeguard towards a degree In sports science.
Critics lambasted the scheme yesterday as further evidence of dumbing down in higher education.
Shadow education minister Graham Brady said: Life experiences are important for everyone. But however significant those experiences, they can be no substitute for serious academic study.
‘It is particularly worrying if drug addicts are being given an advantage over those who have studied and worked bard.’
Other examples also raised eye-brows. Angila Polytechnic University advises students on its website: The experience of being a holiday life guard has no relevance to a degree In electronics, but would probably have some relevance to a degree in sports science.’
The Quality Assurance Agency, the higher education watchdog, has become so concerned It plans to launch new guidelines to stop dubious uses of the APEL scheme. Wide variations in how universities apply the rules emerged at a recent meeting hosted by the QAA. It revealed that in a few cases, up to two thirds of an award is eligible for APEL’. This means that some students would be able to complete a three-year degree course in a year. Students must pay a charge If they wish their pre-university experiences to be assessed under APEL. This can be anything from a few pounds to £100. But in some cases the assessment involves little more than an informal meeting with an academic.
Explaining the plans at Glasgow Caledonian, Paula Cleary a research fellow at the university. said: The kind of experiences they (the addicts) had had were relevant — they had had to gather information to learn about how to cope and they had to undergo the process of counselling, for example.
Mary Brett, a grammar school teacher in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, said she was thunderstruck’ by the idea and warned it could encourage children to experiment with drugs. ‘It certainly isn’t a deterrent if they know the experience can help their future.’