RPL and the National College of Art and Design - A Reflection


Local Response: Centre for Continuing Education

Mature Student Profile

Institutional Approach: Postgraduate programmes and RPL

Graduate Diploma in Teaching Art Design Education

Lessons for RPL at NCAD


The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) offers full-time and part-time programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level in art and design. At NCAD a range of polices, practices and procedures exist to facilitate students who are seeking access, or wanting transfer and progression options into undergraduate and postgraduate art and design programmes. At this time there is no stated college RPL policy, however it is implicit within established practices for access and transfer at undergraduate and postgraduate level. In 2010, NCAD produced a resource document ‘Guidelines for Programme preparation and design’ for all teaching staff, which included a section on RPL. As NCAD embarks on a period of major curriculum reform (adopting Bologna 3+2+3), a college approach to RPL is likely to be introduced and will feature within programme design stages.

Both the undergraduate and postgraduate college prospectuses include details of entry requirements to all programmes. The college literature contains guidelines for students who may not fulfil standard college entry requirements. Generally, staff in admissions and in student support services, as well as teaching staff are involved in the selection, reviewing and interviewing of students applications, portfolios and other forms of visual presentation, all of which feature when accessing or transferring into higher education in art and design programmes. However, there is no dedicated RPL office or staff member with recognising prior learning responsibilities at NCAD. The following sections provide an overview of some of the practices occurring in relation to RPL across departments and at an institutional level.

Local Response: Centre for Continuing Education

The Centre for Continuing Education in Art and Design has reconfigured part-time provision and NCAD now offers an extensive programme for mature students, as well as school-going students intending to apply to further or higher education. The part-time evening programme includes a range of Certificate and Diploma undergraduate courses. Entry to the part-time programme is on the basis of mature student status (23+) generally, students are required to have either Leaving Certificate or FETAC Level 6 equivalent to access the part-time under graduate programmes. All mature students should be able to demonstrate a commitment to developing an art and design practice. The Continuing Education programme is constructed to encourage mature students with limited prior art and design experience, to take preparatory non-credit courses or audit modules prior to commencing an accredited option in order to build skill, knowledge and confidence in a discipline area. Students who can demonstrate prior certified learning can seek exemption from modules and or transfer within and across programmes offered by the Centre.

Access to all part-time programmes requires students to complete a written application form; however, in some cases students present a portfolio of visual images, sketches and notebooks which are constructed in response to a project brief which has been prepared by programme tutors. The move from a non-accredited to an accredited part-time programme required building, credibility, and transparency into curriculum design and communicating this to staff and students across the college.

For part-time mature students, having access to clear, transparent information about programmes that offer progression, transfer and credit accumulation is important. Institutionally, this requires a multiplicity of approaches, including dedicated open days, brochures and web-based resources that are accessible and relevant to the cohort.

Mature student profile

Mature students who take part-time options at NCAD include those individuals who come to art and design higher education with limited art and design knowledge or experience, those who may have some experience, are self-taught but have not participated in structured courses and, or, have completed their second-level education some time ago. Continuing education also attracts part-time students from related areas, including architecture, as well as graduates of art and design who have been at a distance from the subject for some time and want to renew their practice.

The Certificate programmes offer students a range of choices in terms of what they want to study, when and for how long. The Certificate in Visual Art Practice is the most flexible part-time programme, it is made up of twelve modules, and students can audit the programme or take credits.

Institutional Approach: Postgraduate programmes and RPL

NCAD offers a range of taught postgraduate courses including: MA, M Litt, MSc., PG Diplomas and Phd. Access to postgraduate Level 9 programmes at NCAD includes the standard requirement of completing a Level 8 Degree programme, having a minimum 2nd class honours or equivalent. Furthermore, the NCAD will also consider applications from (1) individuals who hold Diplomas in Art and Design (the primary undergraduate qualification in this area until the Degree became the norm in the mid 1980s), as well as (2) applications on the basis of proven relevant work experience. With respect to the two categories of applicants outlined above, they may be required to complete a qualifying exam or audit a designated series of modules in order to fulfil particular programme requirements.

Applications for postgraduate programmes are initially sent to admissions and then to Faculty staff for review and selection. All postgraduate applications are processed through the Higher Awards Committee. Where applicants do not meet the standard requirements and the recommendation of the programme team is that they be offered a place, the basis for making the recommendation is outlined; furthermore, a qualifier may be proposed and the matter is adjudicated by the Higher Awards Committee.

The Higher Awards Committee is the main forum for discussing issues relating to policy, guidelines and procedures for postgraduate programmes and is chaired by the Head of Research. Some postgraduate programmes require applicants to attend for interview. Aside from qualifications, the quality of a students’ research proposal, importance of prior experience, and work-related experience relevant to art and design, is critical in establishing the applicants’ motivation and capacity to sustain their research project at postgraduate level.

Graduate Diploma in Teaching Art Design Education

Increasing numbers of students are seeking access to the postgraduate Diploma in art and design teaching. This full-time programme involves traditional academic components, as well as art and design practice modules. While standard entry requirements to the graduate programme exist, (the minimum entry requirement is an NFQ Level 8 Honours Bachelor Degree) there is also a means of recognising work-based and informal learning as a contributory factor to the students’ application.

The application process involves clearly established selection criteria, also, students’ prior informal and work-based experience, knowledge of education policy and practice is recognised as an important factor, contributing to student motivation for learning. All students applying to the postgraduate programme complete an application form, which includes a personal statement. Potential students should present a visual portfolio of recent work, undertake a drawing test and attend a group interview.

Lessons for RPL at NCAD


  1. In the past, practices which supported RPL have developed locally or organically within higher education. The impetus from a range of external drivers such as the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) requires colleges to develop explicit procedures that are communicated to different cohorts of students;
  2. RPL is a way of recognising prior learning including certified or experiential learning and framing institutional policies and practices in this area requires the input of both academic and administrative staff;
  3. RPL is not about bending rules, or lowering standards, therefore communicating RPL positively within higher education institutions is important;
  4. Visual portfolios are an established and recognised means of assessing individual learning and competency over time; and
  5. Transparency and consistency in approach when implementing RPL policies within NCAD and higher education generally is important.

Nuala Hunt
Head of Continuing Education in Art and Design (NCAD)
BA, MA, MSc, Grad.Dip.UTL

© 2024 University Framework Implementation Network

Link opens in new windowWeb Design by Webtrade