From education to employment

Micro-credentials: Certifying the future of higher education in the UK

Sidharth Oberoi

COVID-19’s effect on education has created a paradigm shift for higher education while shining a light on challenges the sector was already facing. The pandemic highlighted unequal opportunities and showcased the gap between education taught at universities and the skills needed to succeed in a digital workforce.

Currently, solutions are needed that can rapidly scale and resolve the challenges facing students today brought forth by the pandemic. According to the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee report, one of those crucial challenges is the skills gaps and shortages in existing and emerging sectors which is damaging productivity. A solution to this challenge for students, educators and employers alike is micro-credentials, as they become more accessible with the generalisation of virtual learning environments.

Micro-credentials are mini-digital certifications that can be used to validate skills in a specific area. The crucial difference between a traditional degree and micro-credentials is that credentials allow students to take courses that are modular, flexible and narrower in focus than a degree while still demonstrating students have up-to-date knowledge. This allows the constant evolution of curriculum to align with the rapid pace at which technology is changing industry practises. The question is no longer what the micro-credentials can do but rather why this is an alternative to traditional education and what impact this will have in the UK now and in the future.

Micro-credentials support work and career readiness

According to a recent global survey by Instructure, findings reveal that among respondents worldwide, only 27% of EMEA respondents felt institutions were preparing students for the world of work, demonstrating this should be of paramount importance for higher education institutions. In the UK alone, 61% say work and career readiness is crucial when measuring student success in the next 12 months. The evolution of education is currently coinciding with the current cost-of-living predicament, forcing students to prioritise career readiness when investing in education.

The economic challenges have been particularly difficult for full-time and part-time students alongside job seekers. Higher education institutions are expected to raise tuition in 2023. However, studies indicate that recent university graduates are now overqualified for the current roles given to them. These primarily are administrative and service occupations, once completing university degrees which can often minimise the value of pursuing these degrees in the first place. Micro-credentials are meant to maintain the value of traditional education. However, the value of a university experience is now being questioned when jobs require more skills that are developed beyond a degree cohort.

Mico-credentials are able to be part of the solution that addresses the skills shortage, particularly in subjects pertaining to STEM. Students in today’s world require more opportunities to learn about technology considering it has the most measurable impact on the next generation and plays a significant role in career preparation – particularly skills that involve data science, virtual reality and machine learning.

Due to this, key micro-credentials are gaining traction in the workplace including business management, project management and engineering. These are key areas needed to narrow the skills gap in the UK. By providing students across the economic spectrum access to these crucial micro-credentials, institutions will enable more learners to be better prepared for the workforce.

Why employers are seeking micro-credentials in candidates

According to Instructure’s report, more than half of those surveyed believe that skill diversity will continue to become more critical, signalling that definable skills will become more important in the coming year. This indicates how the labour market is changing, with employers more likely to prefer candidates with strong soft skills that can efficiently be utilised in the job or to upskill their employees with further training to retain them. This is demonstrated by the survey showing that 72% of UK students believe skills-based learning is very essential and will ultimately allow them to enter the workforce quickly or support career progression opportunities.

Regardless, compared to traditional higher education institutions, micro-credentials can now support graduates and job seekers with qualifications in their educational journey. This will ultimately allow students and job seekers platforms and service skills that will increase employment opportunities.

The surge in interest in micro-credentials demonstrates that job seekers will not only be evaluated on which university they have attended but on what they know and how they can meaningfully contribute to the workforce. The opportunity for students to learn tangible skills through short digital courses provides the needed competencies to ensure the student is equipped with skills aligned to emerging practices. This validates their abilities within a specific discipline that previously traditional education could only offer.

Micro-credentials signify the change undergoing in education – allowing educators to incorporate online learning opportunities at an affordable price, thus increasing the validity, affordability and accessibility of education to students. The return on investment, combined with the increased diversity in options to pursue alternative credentials, is empowering students to own their educational journey now more than ever.

By, Sidharth Oberoi, Vice President of International Strategy for Instructure and oversees the strategy and vision of Product for Canvas

Sidharth is the Vice President of International Strategy for Instructure and oversees the strategy and vision of Product for Canvas and all of our products from a global perspective. Sidharth manages the strategic direction of the fast growing Instructure Learning Platform and works with the Global teams to ensure that as the Product is developed, that it is thought about in a global capacity. Sidharth works to identify market specific Product initiatives recognising that education can vastly vary between and inside of regions. Additionally, over the past two years he has been overseeing our Online Programs strategy and identifying how Instructure can better service the needs of our users across the globe as they transition their programs to Online and hybrid modalities, including attracting new ‘non-traditional’ learners.

Sidharth has been actively working in Education Technology for over 10 years and is dedicated to providing avenues for institutions and learners to have access to the best tools and resources to enhance education.

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