From education to employment

Micro-credentials: a perspective from Europe

Image of Paul Grainger on FE New's exclusive article background

Following the pandemic, Micro-credentials have become an important agent in the process of re-skilling for the new economy. This report looks at the European perspective on this emerging vehicle for retraining.

Recently I’ve been doing a bit of work with CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. Their work is based on high quality research and evidence-based policy advice, so they haven’t featured much in UK strategic thinking.

Understanding the Complexities of Vocational Qualification Systems

At their foundation in 1975 CEDEFOP was charged with establishing comparability across mainly European national vocational qualification systems, in order to support the free movement of labour. For example, what could a BTEC National give you access to in Germany, what does a French Baccalaureate S progress you to in the UK?

This task proved impossible. However, it did deepen our understanding of the nature of vocational, skills and professional learning. National, and most especially regional vocational systems do not travel well. They are closely tied to the professional, cultural and economic circumstances of each region. Employers’ needs and preferences are often not well articulated, and the process of building a credible, and valid vocational qualification is a complex one, as is proving to be the case with T levels. Governmental principles are often in tension with student choice and employer needs.

In 2019 CEDEFOP was re-launched to research into, and enhance our understanding of skills-based learning, and to advise policy makers accordingly. Hence their present interest in Micro-credentials, bite size courses that have come to prominence during and after the pandemic as industry accommodates to a changing economic and technological context. As a consequence, many in the workforce have had to rapidly retrain to continue in employment.

Exploring the Potential of Micro-credentials

A CEDEFOP conference, 22 – 23 June surveyed the present state of Micro-credentials across Europe. Led by Anastasia Pouliou (CEDEFOP expert in qualifications, credentials and the future of VET) the conference looked at how Micro-credentials can improve skills utilisation and career development, and build stronger links with workplace requirements. Anastasia makes the point that designing a Micro-credential requires careful and precise articulation of learning outcomes.

Some sessions in the conference engaged in the sterile debate on how micro-credentials should relate to national systems, and whether credits could be assigned tariffs, aligned with existing qualifications, and so become transferable. This sounds like the assessment bureaucracy trying to get their hands on a movement which is essentially local, spontaneous, and indeed potentially subversive.  Micro-credentials may, in time, provide material for a formal qualification, and be subject to official validation procedures, creating mew modules of an existing qualification. But initially it is the relative informality of Micro-credentials that is their strength: disruptive innovation rather that excessive regulation.

Understanding the Scope and Limitations of Micro-credentials

It is useful to stress what Micro-credentials are not. They cannot, must not, replace licence to practice courses. These are properly the subject of strict legislation and rigorous standards of assessment. They are not appropriate for the education of young people. Young people need an entitlement curriculum and qualifications that are nationally respected, transferable within an administration, of some substance, and provide for progression. Micro-credentials are for the older learner re-skilling or up-skilling in a time of turbulence.

CEDEFOP is now researching the changes to vocational education, in response to the present fluctuating economy, political map, and demographic trends.

Towards the end of the conference, I joined a session Future research on microcredentials. I proposed six areas for future research.

  • Developing a narrative of VET cultures in various administrations. What is the status of vocational qualification, how valid are their links to industry, what support do they provide for career progression.  How is the curriculum determined?
  • How do the sills necessary to employment relate to qualifications?
  • How far are vocational qualification in a regime an agent for social control, artificially restricting entry to certain occupations or higher education?
  • How do Micro-credentials contribute to personal capital and a feeling of self-worth?
  • How does a Micro-credential achieve credibility? What respect is generated by key employers and anchor institutions such as VET colleges?
  • How can VET providers best identify emerging skills needs?

Watch this space!

By Paul Grainger, Honorary Senior Research Associate, UCL
By Paul Grainger, Honorary Senior Research Associate, UCL

Enjoyed this article.. well hear and work with Paul at the FE Collective

What is the FE Collective?

The FE Collective is a flipped conference, where the audience will work together to tackle some of the biggest challenges in the FE and Skills sector. To collectively share ideas, visions and solutions for the system of the future.

This is an outcome-driven gathering of thought leaders and influencers, working together to come up with a collaborative report.

Find out more about the FE Collective, check out the agenda and get your tickets down below!

FE News on the go…

Welcome to FE News on the go, the podcast that delivers exclusive articles from the world of further education straight to your ears.

We are experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to make our exclusive articles even more accessible while also automating the process for our team of project managers.

In each episode, our thought leaders and sector influencers will delve into the most pressing issues facing the FE sector, offering their insights and analysis on the latest news, trends, and developments.

Related Articles