Low uptake of degree course based on work experience

A system giving people in France the opportunity earn a degree based on professional experience was introduced in 2002. However, the number of people applying for this type of qualification has decreased. A new study shows degrees are most likely to be granted to women in employment who are aged between 30 and 49. Qualifications tend to be awarded in relatively low educational categories, but the initiative remains of importance for people who could not obtain a degree earlier in life.


In 2002, the Social Modernisation Act in France introduced a new way for people to gain a recognised diploma based on their work experience.

The Act made it possible to apply for a formal validation of acquired experiences (VAE). The diploma runs alongside initial training through the apprenticeship and higher education system, and gives employees the chance to participate in lifelong learning. Applicants may receive either a degree or a similar diploma based on their professional experience.

Relevant experience may have been acquired through salaried or non-salaried employment, or through voluntary services. The responsibility for checking applications is divided among a number of ministries depending on which degree is involved.

Around 3,400 different degrees and diplomas may be obtained through VAE. There are no data in the study, however, from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, which administers by far the largest number of degrees.

Figures on VAEs come from the Ministry of Employment’s Office for Research and Statistics, DARES. The sample on which the latest results are based covers 1,344 degrees, 56% of which have been subject to a VAE in 2012. Most applications for qualifications were received in the area of education (51%).

Application process

People who wish to apply for a VAE must submit an application outlining at least three years’ professional experience in their field, and the degree they wish to obtain.

In 2012, around 64,000 eligible applications were received by the ministries from which data were collected for this study, a decrease of 2% compared to 2011 (see figure). Drops in the number of applications were recorded by those ministries that have previously received the highest numbers of requests. These were in the areas of national education, health and social affairs. Increased numbers of applications were made to ministries that have previously seen a lower demand. Some of these – the Ministry of Culture, for example – recently made new VAEs available.

In the second step in the process, applicants are invited to appear in front of a committee that judges their work experience. The committee consists of practitioners or people with experience in vocational training. About 49,000 candidates presented their applications in 2012, a decrease of 6% on the previous year.

The committee has the power to pass, refuse, or conditionally pass the application. A conditional pass requires the candidate to make up gaps in experience within five years and resubmit the application.

In 2012, around 28,000 degrees were granted, a 5% drop from 2011. Of those who presented their application in front of a committee, 58% were awarded a degree, 30% were given a conditional pass, and 11% were refused.

VAE applications submitted, presented and degrees granted, 2003–2012

VAE applications submitted, presented and degrees granted, 2003–2012

Source: Dares

Candidates mainly women

Figures show 76% of all candidates for a VAE in 2012 were women. This is a slight increase, up two percentage points on 2011 applications.

The strong female dominance is largely due to the type of degrees requested by VAE applicants. The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs receives roughly a quarter of all applications, and it grants degrees in the female-dominated health sector. It reported that 96% of successful applications came from women.

The highest number of degree requests came in the area of national education which processed almost 50% of all applications. The ministry in charge of this sector granted 60% of its degrees to female applicants.

Male-dominated sectors– such as defence, maritime affairs and agriculture, and their corresponding ministries – recorded a combined rate of just 2% of requests.

A minimum of three years’ work experience is required under this scheme, which is one reason young people seem to be underrepresented among VAE applicants. Only 10% were less than 30 years old. The large majority (70%) are aged between 30 to 49 and just 18% are 50 and over.

Although people in various economic situations are eligible to apply for a VAE, a majority (70%) were in employment when submitting their documents. Figures show 29% were unemployed and less than 1% of the candidates were economically inactive.

The level of degree desired by the applicants is relatively low. Figures show 52% request a lower secondary education degree (ISCED level 2), which could be a vocational training technical school certificate. Degrees that correspond to a three-year undergraduate degree or above account for fewer than 3% of successful applications.

Profile of successful VAE candidates, 2011–12 (%)











< 30



30 – 39



40 – 49



> 50



Economic situation










Source: Dares


Even though the overall access to VAE remains limited, its importance is concentrated in certain sectors and for certain degrees. In particular, this seems to be the case for people who have obtained none or only low-level degrees during their initial education. According to the present study, for instance, 26% of all people who have received a technical high school diploma, or baccalaureate, after their initial education have obtained it through the VAE process.


Dares (2014), La VAE en 2012 dans les ministères certificateurs (in French, 625 KB PDF) [The VAE in 2012 in the certifying ministries], Dares analyses, No 002/2014.

Sebastian Schulze-Marmeling, IRShare

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