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17 November 2022

Micro-credentials good practice: A tertiary view from Scotland


Dr Anne Tierney
Deputy Chair of the Scottish Tertiary Education Network for Micro-credentials

Dr Anne Tierney, Deputy Chair of the Scottish Tertiary Education Network for Micro-credentials, reflects on collaborative enhancement activity in Scotland and a purposeful move to cooperation across the tertiary sector which led to production of a Good Practice Guide for Micro-credentials and Small Qualifications in Scotland.

Scotland has a strong history of collaborative working, illustrated through a wide range of Enhancement Themes and college sector projects throughout the past 20 years. This enhancement-led approach is a strength of the Scottish sector and is admired across other countries. Our latest development has been a sector-led move, supported by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Scotland to tertiary enhancement, enabling closer working of colleges and universities. This is both an exciting development, but also a challenging one, as we get to know one another and collaborate over higher and further education.


One such sector wide tertiary activity is the Scottish Tertiary Education Network for Micro-credentials; a group of Scottish tertiary institutions and a wide range of stakeholders, supported by QAA Scotland. Including representatives from 11 Scottish universities and 5 Scottish colleges, the Network met regularly over the past two years and has produced a Scottish Tertiary Education Micro-credentials Glossary and a Good Practice Guide for Micro-credentials and Small Qualifications in Scotland, which was published by QAA Scotland in August 2023. The members of the Network became a tight-knit group, delivering guidance on micro-credentials and small qualifications to the sector and other micro-credential providers.


Previous Enhancement Theme activity formed the background to the work of the Network including an exploration of digital badges by the University of Dundee, University of Aberdeen and Abertay University in 2017 and the 2020-21 collaborative cluster project: Exploring the Potential of Micro-credentials and Digital Badges. The collaborative cluster reviewed current practice and sought the views of a range of interested stakeholders, namely university staff, current students, potential learners and employers. The recommendations from this project became the foundation for the aims of the Scottish Tertiary Education Network for Micro-credentials.


The Good Practice Guide for Micro-credentials and Small Qualifications in Scotland is innovative in that it is tailored to all micro-credential providers in Scotland: colleges, HEIs and other credit-rating bodies. The Network and Good Practice Guide recognise both credit-rated and non-credit rated micro-credentials, noting that HE micro-credentials should be credit-rated, and refer to non-credit-bearing courses as ‘small qualifications’. Related to micro-credentials is the role of recognition of prior learning (RPL) in facilitating lifelong learning.


We ask that institutions and providers read and implement the Good Practice Guide. Using inclusive and consistent language, it aligns to the QAA Micro-credentials Characteristics Statement, a range of providers’ approaches to micro-credential provision and quality assurance practices already in place in tertiary institutions. The Good Practice Guide is intended to guide and support providers, developers, partners and learners. If all micro-credential providers adhere to the principles within the Good Practice Guide it is hoped that learners will have a high-quality learning experience and there will be greater opportunities for micro-credential learner mobility.


Following on from these publications, the Network has plans for future development, further enhancing the Scottish micro-credentials perspective and offering inspiration to other related sectors on similar pathways. The first of these is the development of a Scottish Micro-credentials Framework and an exploration of the formation of a Micro-credentials Hub, both of which were identified as areas of interest in the collaborative cluster project report. We would also like to further explore the relationship between micro-credentials and RPL, which offers significant potential to support and recognise less formal avenues of learning.