After a brief account of the background to the accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) in higher education, this paper elaborates on what are usually seen as two contrasting approaches to it: the credit exchange and developmental models. The paper argues that these should be recognised as poles of a continuum rather than dichotomous approaches and subjects each end of this continuum to critical scrutiny. Practical, epistemological, pedagogical and cultural impediments to successful implementation of APEL are explored, the potential of APEL for deepening surveillance of the individual is highlighted and claims made about APEL and equal opportunities are questioned. In particular, the problems associated with taking inappropriate positions on the continuum and of being unclear about the position taken are emphasised. The paper concludes by mapping areas where further research is needed and identifying the limits of the potential of APEL to broaden access to a mass higher education system.