Transforming Higher Education: the role of micro-credentials and collaboration

The HEInnovate webinar held on the 20th May 2021 focused on a different form of learning, micro-credentials. The webinar covered what defines micro-credentials and explored why they will help the transformation of Higher Education and how they can fit into higher education systems. The webinar attracted an audience of over 240 people and the speakers brought their experiences, from policy through to practice, spanning European and US experiences. The webinar was moderated by Rebecca Allinson, Managing Partner at Technopolis Group in the form of a panel discussion.

The first panellist, Klara Engels-Perenyi, Policy Officer Higher Education, European Commission, provided an overview of the European approach to micro-credentials. Over the last year, a large consultation exercise has been ongoing at the European level which will culminate in Council recommendations at the end of 2021.

Micro-credentials were presented as addressing the growing need for education to be more accessible and learner-centred as well as a way of updating knowledge, skills and competences for students to better tackle the green and digital transition and the COVID-19 recovery. There was a consensus that a discussion is needed at national and international level, given that micro-credentials need to be comparable across different countries and institutions.

Klara introduced in the debate the working definition of micro-credentials as drafted by the Higher Education Consultation Group:

A micro-credential is a proof of the learning outcomes that a learner has acquired, following a short learning experience. These learning outcomes have been assessed against standards that are transparent. The proof is contained in a certified document that lists the name of the holder, the achieved learning outcomes, the assessment method, the awarding body and, where applicable, the qualifications framework level and the credits gained. Micro-credentials are owned by the learner, can be shared, are portable and may be combined into larger credentials or qualifications. They are underpinned by quality assurance following agreed standards.

Karen Elzey, Associate Executive Director at Workcred, an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute, gave the audience insights into the work already done on micro-credentials in the US, particularly within Bachelor’s degree programmes. Through convening stakeholders from universities and certification bodies, Workcred gathered knowledge about the relationships between the system actors and developed a framework to identify “certification-degree” pathways, challenges and opportunities. Karen provided insights into some  important issues to consider such as:

  • The lack of communication between universities and certification bodies representing a challenge in setting up a system that allows learners to simultaneously acquire the analytical skills they need to be lifelong learners (degree) as well as the technical skills needed to immediately contribute as a professional (certification)
  • The need to adopt a terminology about credentials that is clear and transparent and shared across different stakeholders
  • How employers might be involved in defining which skills and competencies are necessary for a specific job
  • How to time the micro-credentials in the student journey to make them relevant and fit in well with the degree programme.
  • How to pay for the standardized exam associated with the micro-credential and whether this cost might be incorporated into the cost of the degree

Karen commented that in those degree programmes in which micro-credentials have been embedded, there has been a positive impact on student retention rate, which in turn has improved on the rate of degree completion.

The audience engaged with these topics and posed many questions. There was a lively debate on the ‘stackability’ and portability of the micro-credentials and what it means that the micro-credentials are ‘owned’ by the learner. In fact, learners can decide to share micro-credentials or not with others and can acquire a series of micro-credentials that are stackable in that they build upon one another and are designed to be self-paced.

Alisson Avila, Communication & Knowledge Principal, Beta-I and Christian Friedl, Edupreneur and Senior Lecturer, FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences Graz presented Corship (Corporate Edupreneurship), a knowledge alliance supporting collaboration between universities, start-ups and corporates through innovating forms of education and through developing tools to improve communication and understanding among different stakeholders. To achieve its aims, Corsphip developed the following instruments:

  • the first Massive Online Open Course MOOC on how start-ups and corporates can co-innovate together
  • the first Micro-credential on co-innovation
  • a co-innovation toolbox – containing tools to facilitate collaboration

Alisson reflected on how micro-credentials and collaborations with start-ups and corporates can contribute to the transformation of Higher Education; universities are an ideal locus for the collaboration between different stakeholders to take place because of their deemed independence and academic probity; micro-credentials, being scalable, learner-focussed and multi-disciplinary, can help the transferability of learning, thus contributing to the knowledge economy which is increasingly fast changing. The contribution of micro-credentials was viewed also as an opportunity to gather and transfer innovative and inspirational content.

All speakers agreed that ensuring the high quality of the micro-credentials is of paramount importance. Christian commented that one way to ensure high quality is for academia and industry to join forces and to integrate the learners´ perspective; low-quality provision, especially in the case of learners having acquired their first micro-credential, would be detrimental to the learners. To this end, the EU has a committee looking at ISO/IEC 17l024:2012 and how this can be used to ensure consistency of quality across borders.

Polling revealed that only one quarter of Higher Education Institutions represented in the audience offered micro-credentials, but 63 % would like to offer them or are setting themselves up to offer them. Out of the institutions that offer them, only a small minority offer micro-credentials in collaboration with businesses, but there was a general consensus (82% of all respondents) that greater collaboration with businesses would have the benefit of offering micro-credentials that are more aligned to the needs of the labour market.

By the end of 2021, the European Commission aims to submit a proposal for a Council Recommendation on micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. Currently, an online public consultation is taking place, which is open until 13 July 2021. Respondents can fill in the survey in the name of their organisation or in a private capacity. Organisations are also invited to attach a position paper, if they wish to do so.

Useful resources and links to major reports and policy initiatives on Micro-credentials are found here.

You can watch the recording of the webinar here.

  • Webinar summary
Submitted by:
HEInnovate Admin
Submitted on:
03 Jun 2021
Related event date:
20 May 2021