Could micro-credentials undermine VET and higher education qualifications?


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Workers’ trade unions and education trade unions have several concerns about micro-credentials, which would have a significant impact on the holistic approach to education, quality and recognition of employee training, collective agreements and staff in the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education sectors.  According to the joint position paper of ETUC and ETUCE on micro-credentials in VET and tertiary education adopted yesterday, on 2 July, setting out these worries.

In recent policy discussions the European Commission has been pushing the idea of micro-credentials in VET and higher education ever more enthusiastically. One of the problems is the lack of an agreed definition and common understanding on micro-credentials at the European level. According to OECD, alternative credentials are not recognised as standalone formal educational qualifications by relevant national education authorities, and micro-credentials can be employer-led certificates or provided by education institutions (e.g. via Massive Open Online Courses – MOOCs).

The joint position paper acknowledges the necessity of some micro-credentials issued by companies in relation to specific expertise (e.g. Microsoft), but reminds that the whole education system cannot be shaped around the labour market. Education is a public good and it should prepare students to become democratic citizens as well as employees. This holistic view of education must be protected to allow students to acquire social skills, not only knowledge relevant to short-term labour market needs, and to ensure that they obtain full qualifications. In particular, education trade unions are concerned that the strong focus on micro-credentials can lead to formal education systems being bypassed, while the recent public health crisis provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how important public education is for students and communities.

ETUCE and ETUC support micro-credentials only when certain criteria are met. Micro-credentials must:

  • be complementary to full qualifications;
  • be quality assured and accredited;
  • be recognised as a proof of achievement and not only validated;
  • play a role in validation of non-formal and informal learning;
  • be based on standards on delivery modes, assessment procedures, and duration;
  • indicate clearly how they link to full qualifications.

Concerning the use of micro-credentials in the teaching profession, ETUCE reminds the European Commission about existing national regulations and requirements for teachers to be fully qualified, and that their professional autonomy and academic freedom must be respected within the education and training sectors. Academic freedom and the institutional autonomy of higher education institutions have been under attack from labour market demands and public budget cuts, which force universities to seek additional funding, often by providing short-term courses for the labour market. ETUCE is particularly concerned that increasing digitalisation of teaching and learning and the development of micro-credentials undermine universities’ role as a source of fundamental and new knowledge.