Validation of non-formal and informal learning in Finnish Higher Education

The Council of the European Union recommendation from 20 December 2012 urges the EU member states to have in place the necessary arrangements for validation by the year 2018. The question is how well the universities are prepared for validation of non-formal and informal learning?

Stakeholders discussing validation in HE in Finland. Stakeholders discussing validation in HE in Finland.

The Council of the European Union gave a recommendation on validation of non-formal and informal learning 20 December 2012. The recommendation urges the EU member states to have in place the necessary arrangements for validation by the year 2018. The recommendations challenge educational institutions to develop procedures needed in identifying, documenting, assessing and accrediting learning outcomes that individuals have acquired outside formal education. This is a challenge especially to higher education institutions, which have traditionally emphasized formal learning. How well are the universities prepared for validation of non-formal and informal learning?

Audit of universities in Finland

In Finland the RPL in Higher Education Project (European Social Fund, ESF) carried an external audit to a sample of universities and universities of applied sciences to find out how the Finnish HE institutions have created their validation systems. The audit was organized as structured interviews in two groupings, one consisting members from management and administration and the other of teachers, tutors and students. The data was collected from two universities and three universities of applied sciences in December 2013 to March 2014.

Validation in recruiting adult students

The recommendations of the Council suggest validation should be made available for everybody. In Finland validation procedures are targeted to existing students only. However, the HE institutions see that relevant information should be available on validation through websites and printed materials for those interested in studies. This is the case especially in the institutions with a high percentage of adult learners. The timing and practices of personal study planning (PSP) should be developed in order to give priority to students with prior learning so that they can proceed to more demanding studies right from the beginning.
All of the HE institutions participating in the audit had built their validation systems. Recognition of formal learning was customary to all the institutions. Universities of applied sciences were better equipped for validation of non-formal and informal learning. Despite of this fact the universities did validate also learning outside classroom. Policy documents, process descriptions, roles and tasks of learners, tutors and assessors were described. Some of the institutions used an ICT-enhanced process for working with the documents. The two groups participating in the structured interviews shared similar thoughts and experiences on the system and its functionality. Even though the validation systems cover majority of the EU council recommendations, it remains to be a development task for the institutions to distribute the policies and practices into all the departments and disciplines. 

Social aspect of validation

In Finnish universities validation of non-formal and informal learning may be included in obtaining a qualification through the studies. None of the institutions were ready to give a qualification solely on the ground of validation. Validation in the Finnish HE system is based on equality, transparency and predictability. Based on the ideal of free-of-charge higher education for all learners qualifying the entrance criteria, no special emphasis is given for disadvantaged groups, such as individuals who are unemployed or at a risk of unemployment. It remains to be seen whether and if such a policy will be adopted to make better use of validation as a labor market device. It is likely that this social aspect of validation would be put into use in adult education, which caters for individuals who are need assistance in the transitions of their careers and occupations.

Timo Halttunen
Head of Unit
University of Turku
Brahea Centre, Development


Mr Halttunen is a member of the Finnish expert group on validation under NVL. He has been working  in developing validation in two national development projects in Finland. His recent publication Halttunen, Koivisto and Billett: Promoting, Assessing, Recognizing and Certifying Lifelong Learning is now available on
Project website in Swedish:
2014_17a  Timo Halttunen