Prior Learning Assessment

The following is an excerpt from the February 23, 2000 Minutes of the Vancouver Senate. The report that appears below was prepared by the Senate Admissions Committee and was presented by Chair Donald Lyster. Senate accepted the recommendations contained in the report.

Enabling individuals to gain academic credit for what they already know has received considerable attention by educational scholars, particularly since the 1970's. However, prior learning assessment (PLA) has remained a marginal issue for universities. Recently in Canada the Canadian Labour Force Development Board pressed for enhanced PLA. British Columbia has gained a reputation as a leader in PLA post-secondary implementation, with the strong support of the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Technology and Training (MAETT) and the Centre for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology (C2T2).


  1. That UBC accept course credits earned through PLA from other recognized post-secondary institutions.
  2. That PLA transfer credit be noted as such on the UBC student record.
  3. That UBC create a part-time position for a PLA coordinator (using funding available from the province).
  4. That the wording currently in the Calendar (p. 42) be changed as follows:
Current Calendar Entry

Challenge Credit

"Courses that have been successfully 'challenged' at other institutions will be useful to provide advance placement at the University, but credit for such courses will not be given toward a degree. The University of British Columbia will grant credit on transfer only where the course concerned is recognized by the University as suitable for transfer credit and is taken in the normal way by the student."

Proposed Calendar Entry

Credit Earned via Prior Learning Assessment or Challenge

"Credits earned via prior learning assessment (PLA), challenge credit, or the equivalent, at another recognized post-secondary institution are accepted at UBC, so long as the course to which those credits apply is recognized by the University as suitable for transfer credit. The University only accepts PLA credits which are assigned to specific courses."


PLA is increasingly widespread in the BC post-secondary system and students are applying to UBC who have received some credit via PLA. We need a policy for students who are requesting PLA transfer credit.

PLA already has a small but significant presence at UBC. Although UBC admits the vast majority of students on the basis of marks attained in Grade 12 (or equivalent), there are some exceptions to this practice which are relevant to PLA.

First, there are instances where we give students credit for university level work, even though they have not taken the UBC courses to which that credit is attached. Students who pass a calculus challenge examination (a form of PLA) can receive credit for Math 100 (Calendar, p. 38). The UBC Calendar (p. 35) also notes that:

"advanced placement, and in many cases advanced credit, may be given in appropriate subjects where high academic achievement has been attained. This provision applies particularly to the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate (Higher Level), and General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) programs."

Second, there are instances where we recognize, for specific purposes, learning that occurs outside the formal education system. Currently mature students are admitted to the university who "have pursued interests and activities that have contributed to an intellectual maturity" (Calendar, p. 43) although they receive no academic credit for such work. Furthermore, although academic grades are the sole bases of admission for the majority of applicants offered admission, our admission policies recognize that "additional criteria may be used in some programs in the selection of a limited number of qualified students." This broader based admission policy mechanism is used currently in Forestry and Applied Science.

Just as we recognize the learning that has occurred when students take other courses at other institutions, we should recognize the credits which other institutions award to students via PLA (so long as those credits are granted for course work which transfers to UBC). We also should note such recognition on the student record so that we can track the awarding of PLA transfer credit at UBC. The BC post-secondary system has a well-developed PLA protocol. The Ministry has targeted some funding to facilitate PLA and we should use this funding to appoint someone in the Registrar's office to act as a PLA co-ordinator (this person might have other duties in addition to PLA).


At the request of the Committee of Deans, UBC created a Prior Learning Assessment Committee in 1997 to discuss issues of PLA and to help provide direction for policy. This was in response to a province-wide initiative to introduce PLA into British Columbia's post-secondary system. A PLA Forum was held on the UBC campus on November 19, 1998. The above recommendations flow out of the work of that committee and from discussions at the Committee of Deans.

A working definition of PLA is: the achievement of course credits through the formal assessment of competencies that have been acquired through formal or informal learning.

This information is for quick reference. For the full text of the Minutes of Senate, which include the motions and discussion, please see the Minutes Archive.