APEL.Q Case studiesRepublic of Korea APEL.Q case study in education

The Academic Credit Bank System


One of the key features of the Academic Credit Bank System (ACBS) established in 1998 is to help learners to translate their learning experience into credits so that they can accumulate credits and transfer them to further learning and obtain a higher education degree (National Institute for Lifelong Education, 2013).

The ACBS offers six different routes or sources of credits to obtain, accumulate, and recognise learning experiences:

  • Credits from traditional higher education institutions;
  • Credits from part-time courses in traditional higher education institutions;
  • Credits from non-formal education and training institutions accredited by the ACBS division of the National Institute of Lifelong Education (NILE);
  • Credits recognised for vocational qualifications by ACBS (above the level of industrial technician);
  • Credits transferred from the Bachelor’s Degree Examination for Self-Education (BDES) under the Law of Bachelor’s Degree. It is possible to obtain a bachelor’s degree without attending a regular college or university by passing the examination operated by NILE. There are four exams for obtaining a bachelor’s degree, all held once a year.
  • Credits recognised for Accredited Important Intangible Cultural Properties. ACBS accredits masters and their apprentices engaged in artistic activities regarded as traditional and cultural heritage.

Procedures and processes

The ACBS is a summative process that recognises learning outputs via credit hours and includes counselling, documentary evidence and degree conferment:

  • Individuals are required to fill out a Learner Registration form and submit it to the ACBS division at NILE.
  • Individuals obtain assistance from advisors in educational institutions, or through ACBS counselling teams, who help in planning courses, assigning the appropriate subject, or choosing the most appropriate forms of assessment.
  • Individuals who have accumulated diverse learning experiences through informal or in non-formal learning settings have to submit documentary evidence to obtain credits. The type of document varies according to the type of institution conferring the degree (Baik, 2013).
  • After accumulating various learning experiences, learners apply to the ACBS division for credit recognition in order to convert the learning experiences into credits.
  • The degree conferred through ACBS is equivalent to a bachelor’s or associate degree under the Higher Education Act, and is conferred by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology or the president of the university or college.

To maintain and control the quality of the ACBS, the Korean government’s approach relies upon the quality of accreditation of various types of non-formal education institutions (Republic of Korea Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 2008). ACBS has developed Curriculum Standards to assess providers and their programmes. Curriculum Standards define the number of credit hours, subject/major areas and assessment methods. ACBS does not assess the learning outcomes that an individual learner has acquired; rather, it assesses the learning providers and their programmes and accredits them based upon the Curriculum Standards. Based upon these Standards, ACBS offers 109 majors for 24 bachelor degrees and 109 courses for 13 associate degrees as of 2013 (NILE, 2013).

By law, a learner is not allowed to enrol in ACBS and a traditional higher education institution at the same time. A traditional higher education institution only accepts a certain number of the credits that an individual learner has obtained in the ACBS.

In the BDES, a learner must take a qualifying examination to progress to the next step. All examinations consist of both written and on-site tests.

To upgrade skills levels of the adult workforce, two- and three-year colleges offer courses in collaboration with firms. There is an exemption from entrance exams for employees; by contrast regular students have to appear for an entry examination (Lee et al., 2010).

To help learners to progress to higher education, the Republic of Korea’s ACBS is currently putting greater emphasis on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). A vocational qualification and other learning experiences in the workplace can already be recognised towards higher education credits (e.g. the vocational qualifications of Industrial Engineer, Engineer, Master Craftsman and Professional Engineer make up 24, 30, 39 and 45 credits respectively) (Halasz et al., 2009).

Outcomes and ways forward

ACBS has enabled traditional higher education institutions to open up for non-traditional learners and to change their academic-oriented curriculum. However, while there is no legal discrimination between university graduates and the ACBS degree holders, there is still doubt about the quality of education in ACBS and the social prestige that the degrees carry. There is therefore still work to be done in this respect.

At local level, ACBS has helped local governments expand accessibility to higher education for local constituents.

There is a growing demand from firms and learners for traditional higher education institutions to change their structure and policies so as to embrace labour market relevance, lifelong learning orientation and greater accessibility.

Since ACBS is currently the only system in terms of recognising non-formal and informal learning, it is considered the appropriate system for implementing National Competency Standards (NCS) including RPL. NCS are based on learning outcomes rather than on curricular standards.

In 2014, the South Korean government initiated an incentive: whereby accredited VET providers were eligible for public funding e.g. from the Employment Insurance Fund if they adopted the NCS framework in their curriculum. This is a response to the demand from firms to have their workplace training programmes accredited by ACBS and for ACBS to act as a bridge between the outputs of a competence-oriented training and formal higher education institutions.

The biggest challenge is still the connection between non-academic experience including vocational qualifications, and academic credits.


Baik, 2013. Republic of Korea: The Academic Credit Bank. In: M. Singh and R. Duvekot. eds. 2013. Linking Recogntion Practices and National Qualifications Frameworks. UIL, Hamburg.

Halasz, G., Sweet, R. and Taguma, M. 2009. Recognition of non-formal and informal learning: country note for South Korea. Paris, OECD.

Lee, H. Y. and Ko, Y.S. 2014. RPL/VPL Practices in the academic Bank system of South Korea. In: R.C. Duvekot, B. Halba, K. Aagaard, S. Gabršček, and J. Murray. eds. 2014. The Power of VPL – Validation of Prior Learning as a multi-targeted approach for access to learning opportunities for all. Inholland University AS & European Centre Valuation Prior Learning.

Lee, H.Y., Koh, Y.S., Park, S.O., and Park, S.M. 2010. Manual for Recognition of Prior Learning. Seoul, NILE.

NILE, 2013. National Institute for Lifelong Education (NILE). 2013. Manual for the Academic Credit Bank System. Seoul, NILE.

Republic of Korea. Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. 2008. Lifelong Learning Account System: Seoul, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and NILE.


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