How can validating informal learning help access higher education?

The Eurydice report explores opportunities for the validation of non-formal and informal learning in 37 higher education systems across Europe. The report uses qualitative data from the academic year 2023-2024.

The validation of non-formal and informal learning involves the recognition and validation of the knowledge and skills acquired outside of formal learning contexts.

A report by Eurydice, a network whose task is to explain how education systems are organised in Europe and how they work, examines

  • whether the validation of non-formal and informal learning allows accessing higher education study programmes
  • to what extent can the validation contribute to fulfilling higher education study requirements
  • ways of providing validation for these learning activities while providing the quality assurance mechanisms

What is non-formal and informal learning?

People can acquire knowledge and skills in various ways. One common way is to follow structured programmes in education and training institutions which provide certificates or qualifications validating the competences.

However, learning can also happen outside of these formal education institutions, such as at workplaces or within non-professional activities of individuals. In the education policymaking, these learning experiences are known as “non-formal and informal learning”.

Main findings

The validation of non-formal and informal learning is a way of broadening the admission to and the participation in higher education.

  • In less than half of the education systems examined, students without the traditional entry qualifications have the opportunity to access first-cycle higher education on the basis of validating their non-formal or informal learning experiences.
  • Primarily in western and northern European countries, students get the legal possibility of accessing first-cycle higher education through the validation of non-formal and informal learning.
  • There are legal limitations even in systems where the validation of non-formal and informal learning for access to higher education is possible. For example, not all types of higher education institutions may be concerned or only learners above certain age may be eligible.
  • Many of the education systems that allow non-traditional learners to access higher education also offer other alternative ways to do so: through entrance exams or admission tests, trial or preparatory higher education programmes, or alternative qualifications.
  • Another way to use the validation of non-formal and informal learning is to exempt learners from some (or potentially all) higher education study requirements if they demonstrate that they already possess the knowledge and skills relating to a specific higher education programme or qualification.
  • In 30 European education systems (out of 37 examined), learners have a legal possibility to fulfil (at least some) first-cycle higher education study requirements through the validation of non-formal and informal learning. Therefore, this is a more common possibility than the validation for accessing higher education.
  • While the validation contributing to the fulfilment of studies is commonly possible, regulations often set restrictions on the amount of non-formal and informal learning that can be validated within higher education study programmes. This means that learners using validation opportunities commonly have to participate in at least some formal degree courses before achieving a higher education qualification.
  • Data suggest that some non-formal and informal learning activities might be easier to validate than others. Higher education systems seem to be more open to validating learning outcomes resulting from work-related activities and/or different education and training courses than those initiated by family or leisure activities.
  • Around two thirds of the systems with validation arrangements explicitly address this theme in national steering documents relating to higher education quality assurance procedures. When the theme is addressed, the aim is generally to ensure that the validation practice taking place in higher education institutions is underpinned by clearly defined rules.

Policy background

This report builds on the 2012 Council Recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning, as well as objectives set within the Bologna Process.

Read the report “Validation of non-formal and informal learning in higher education in Europe”

Source: European Commission (European Education Area) | News (