23 May 2022
Micro-credentials: The college approach
Dean of Faculty, Hospitality and Leisure, City of Glasgow College
Understanding micro-credentials and small qualifications is a current Enhancement Theme project supported by QAA Scotland. To support this project, a Scottish Tertiary Education Network for Micro-credentials has been established with representatives from HEIs, colleges, students and stakeholders. Siobhán Wilson, Dean of Faculty, Hospitality and Leisure at City of Glasgow College is an active member of this Network. Being a lead researcher on the Exploration of Recognition for Micro-credentials project commissioned by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications (SCQF) Partnership made Siobhán an ideal choice to write a micro-credentials blog to support our Enhancement Theme project.
Short courses are not a new concept; indeed, they’ve been used by institutions for many years to meet a variety of learner and employer needs. However, the February 2020 Cumberford-Little Report was explicit on the need for a refreshed focus and approach. Subsequently, SCQF’s Exploration for Recognition for Micro-credentials Report (March 2021), the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple sectors, the Government’s Future Skills Action Plan and the priority accorded to upskilling and reskilling by the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery all combined to make clear there has never been a more pressing and urgent need for an agile and flexible offer from the tertiary education sector - one that allows individuals and employers to address their skills gaps as quickly as possible in order to aid both business recovery, and that of the wider economy.
But the need for micro-credentials should not simply be a response to an immediate skills crisis. We must make it a core part of our work continually to look at our economic sectors, recognise how quickly they’re changing, embrace these changes and ensure they are reflected in the workforce through purposeful and focused upskilling and reskilling opportunities. Employers alone will not be the only drivers demanding this change; individual learners are increasingly looking for more flexible ways to learn, with wider choice - not only in subject area, but also in the way they learn. Full-time day provision is insufficiently flexible for the countless learners juggling employment and caring responsibilities on top of their studies. We are seeing increasing demand for online and blended learning.
If we think about the following scenarios, we can build a picture of how micro-credentials not only allow individuals to gain immediate employment but can also be used as a base to build a framework of ‘qualifications’ widening access to, and participation in, learning.
At the time of writing, Glasgow’s job market has almost 100 vacancies for Barista positions. It’s possible for someone currently without a job to take a 20-hour micro-credential in Barista Skills, delivered in person at a college over a two-day period. Through this route, someone can be in a job within days, with improved confidence not only in the workplace, but also from engaging in formal and recognised education. In addition, they will have taken the first step in a framework of nationally recognised, credit-rated learning. Ideally, this small qualification would be both stackable and connected within a framework of qualifications.
A small business owner can afford to employ one full-time member of office staff and wants to have a variety of roles completed in-house: basic payroll, accounts payable and receivable, HR and Marketing. But this is a small company and only requires each of these roles at SCQF level 6. One employee could cover each area through a suite of connected micro-credentials, building a portfolio of skills. As the company expands, the employee can access these skills at a more advanced level (SCQF 7), stacking their qualification while building their personal portfolio of small qualifications - which, together, could combine to form a larger transferable qualification.
A degree qualified engineer has experienced project management become a much more substantial part of her job, but only has access to the appropriate training from her employer. She would like to undertake, secure and have a transferable qualification. A micro-credential at SCQF level 11 would be ideal: it not only provides the skill set, but could also form part of a larger qualification as well.
There are, of course, challenges inherent in stackable and connected qualifications being delivered by so many institutions. We have definition, credit value, transferability, recognition, quality assurance and funding models to agree and develop. But these are not insurmountable difficulties if Scotland’s (relatively small) tertiary sector take a collaborative approach to developing a national framework of micro-credentials. This framework should clarify, for learners and employers alike, how and what one can learn, and how credit can be recognised and used to build qualifications that demonstrate knowledge and skills capacity.
The College Micro-credentials Consortium has delivered a proof of concept, suite of micro-credentials, demonstrating the mechanics of the production through a collaborative process. We believe we have the beginnings of a framework for college micro-credentials but would be keen to share this across the entire tertiary sector and would very much invite further discussion and collaboration on this.