The landscape of undergraduate, graduate and technical higher education is changing, and the advent of innovative credentials and micro-credentials has the potential to reshuffle the HE deck.

A phenomenon challenging the traditional HE provision, and urging unbundling, is that, to match newly emerging job profiles, enterprises increasingly demand from employees new combinations of (often specialist and/or niche) skills, and the ability to constantly update their skills throughout their working-life. Consequently, employers expect high responsiveness from HE institutions, and courses that tailor graduates to such specific profiles.

HEIs don’t seem to be agile enough to provide their students with certified skill sets that alter so frequently. MicroHE recognises this challenge and aims to enhance the ability of HEIs to provide micro-credentials, as well as provide for some harmonisation of credentials throughout the sector.

The target audiences, which will take the most advantage of the project activities and results, are:

Higher Education Institutions

who are unbundling / modularising their offerings. They will be deeply involved in, and greatly benefit from, our work. The project partners will survey their current micro-credential provision practices and future plans, and develop tools to enhance the recognition and portability of the certificates they offer.

Employers and students

will be involved with the project through direct participation in the foresight activities, and also by being consulted on the creation of a recognition framework for micro-credentials. In addition to that, they will be invited to test the tools for portability of micro-credentials.

Decision makers

in education and training, at institutional and regional / national / European levels, will participate in the project’s dissemination events, including a number of policy-workshops, as well as the MicroHE final conference, that will be organised in September 2020.

A survey amongst institutional management and other key experts, by the OERTest project, found that Higher Education Institutions believe that unbundling will help them

  1. reach more non-traditional learners,
  2. increase the visibility of their Institution,
  3. address a perceived demand to explore an emerging area of HE innovation,
  4. widen the provision and learning experience for registered students and
  5. complement traditional university funding.

Up until now, non-traditional students that are already in the workforce and are looking to further their careers and want to switch career paths, have been one of the main consumers of micro-credentials. However, perhaps the greatest unexplored territory is the value micro-credentialing can bring to graduate students. Graduates should be able to take the very same advantage of micro-credentials as working professionals. Micro-credentials can also personalize professional learning to meet the learner’s individual needs, allowing them to take quickly what they learn and apply it immediately within their careers.

HE Institutions and students alike point out recognition as a major barrier to further open education adoption. To this end, the 2012 UNESCO Paris OER Declaration specifically mentions the need to “Encourage the development of mechanisms for the assessment and certification of learning outcomes achieved through OER”. The European Commission’s ‘Rethinking Education‘ communication admits, that “critical elements are not in place to enable digital learning and OER to be mainstreamed across all education and training sectors”. It recommends “establishing mechanisms to validate and recognise skills and competences acquired through OER”.

The difficulties in recognition often stem from three possible sources, namely:

  • The virtual mobility / open course is not described in terms of existing recognition instruments, such as ECTS
  • The ECTS is not recognised due to lack of trust in the teaching/learning methodologies used in course delivery
  • ECTS is not recognised due to difficulties in integrating the content between several courses offered by different institutions.

To address these issues the MicroHE project intends to create a recognition framework for micro-credentials, and a meta-data standard and credentials clearinghouse to help facilitate the operations of the framework.

Another issue faced by HEIs, is that they are set up to provide slow-changing multi-year degree programmes, which from a process management point of view, are the diametric opposite of short, fast-moving digitally provided courses. To try and understand how this shift will affect the HEIs MicroHE uses surveying and foresight techniques with the purpose of improving the efficiency and efficacy of their transition to new or updated models of operation.