22.04.2024 | Blog

Blog: EU’s micro-credentials complement lifelong learning opportunities

In 2021, the European Commission issued a recommendation to add micro-credentials to its education and training offering as an initiative to develop the provision of lifelong learning. The goal of the Commission is especially to create clearly identified micro-credentials for the labour market. The proposal is now moving into practice, and national pilot projects and deliberation on what the micro-credentials will be like in practice are in progress.

In Finland, lifelong learning has been based especially on open universities, adult education centres and other standalone courses. The aim has been to respond to the need to develop and update people’s competences at different stages of their lives and careers, as well as to provide liberal adult education. With today’s labour market in constant change, the role of upgrading skills and retraining is highlighted, which is also the background for this EU initiative. There is indeed a demand for more easily identified micro-credentials. With the development of a labour market-oriented and privately funded system, we should hold more and more tightly onto the general educational and cultural role of lifelong learning.

As a rule, micro-credentials should come after a vocational qualification or higher education degree. One of the characteristics of micro-credentials is that they can be stacked to create larger credentials. In order to ensure free and equal education and training in the future, it is important to keep degree programmes separate so that micro-credentials do not become paid degrees.

Student inclusion, which has been adopted in degree programmes, should not be forgotten in micro-credentials either. Students must be included in the planning and development of the courses, and it should be possible to complete micro-credentials flexibly, alongside work and with different learning methods.

Who will take care of quality assurance?

Currently, the quality assurance system of higher education institutions is based on the assessment of the institutions’ internal quality control systems and processes. Quality assurance becomes a key issue when the training and credential provider is not a formal educational institution. In Finland, the quality of higher education institutions is regularly assessed, which guarantees the quality of studies. This ensures that the micro-credentials produced by higher education institutions are of high quality. For other providers, quality assurance cannot be ensured in the same way. In their case, the compliance of the provider of micro-credentials with the same quality requirements should be ensured separately.

Another key issue in micro-credentials is the assessment of learning outcomes. Defining learning outcomes is not enough; it must also be ensured that the learning outcomes the learner has acquired can be assessed after completing the course. If the assessment is carried out by a provider other than a formal educational institution, the assessment provider should have verified capabilities to carry out a reliable assessment. The contents of micro-credentials of the same name should match to ensure quality and enable recognition of learning.

As micro-credentials will no doubt find their way into existing degrees through credit transfer and other recognition of prior learning processes, it is important to hold onto quality assurance and reserve the right to award degrees to higher education institutions.

Authors Asta Nieminen ( Board member of SAMOK) and Jaakko Sirén (Board member of SYL)