Member states urged to agree a common approach to ‘micro-credentials’ in which they recognise short adult training courses. This is intended to support life long learning and address the skills gap
The European Commission has unveiled proposals to encourage member states to establish EU-wide principles for giving accreditation to short training courses. The aim is for each citizen to have a record of any short courses they complete and for these qualifications to be recognised across institutions, businesses, sectors and borders.
In addition to calling on member states to establish common definitions and standards to enable such records, the Commission is asking them to set up ‘digital wallets for training entitlements’ that can be accumulated and spent on training.
People would be able to accumulate these entitlements and use them throughout their careers. This would allow them to embark on longer or more costly training, or to update or complete their skills set, and in response to the needs of the labour market.
The new principles seek to support life-long learning, in a bid to give Europeans the skills needed for the EU’s green and digital transitions.
“There is an important role for micro-credentials in terms of inclusion and access to education, lifelong learning and pedagogical innovation,” said Ivana Didak, senior policy officer at the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.
The Guild is happy with the proposal to ensure public funding for micro-credentials, ensuring universities are supported. “There is a real potential to incentivise courses in areas of great societal transformation, which could add to our research base in these areas,” Didak said.
Universities are providers of micro-credentials but currently their role differs massively institution by institution and country by country. The courses themselves come in different formats, from online and face-to-face learning, and can be stand alone, or in modules that build into higher level qualifications.
The new approach to micro-credentials must appreciate the diversity of these forms and formats, which can create a “rich and competitive micro-credential market,” said a policy paper from the European Universities Association in July.
At the same time, universities have different role to play from commercial training providers, noted Didak. “As research-intensive universities, we argued that universities are not in competition with commercial providers and that we should focus on areas where there is a distinctive need for research-led education.”
Skills for green and digital transition
The new approach is intended to contribute towards the EU’s target of having 60% of all adults take part in training every year by 2030, as it moves forward with the green and digital transition.
Today, the bloc is far from reaching this goal. In 2016, only 37% of European adults participated in annual training, with small growth rates registered in previous years.
Asked what is the biggest barrier to training is, 89% of Europeans cite high costs, while 82% say they have a lack of awareness, as well as uncertainty over whether employers would recognise their achievements.
But universities warn against taking a narrow focus on short-term courses that are aimed at meeting specific market needs. “We believe that micro-credentials need to be carefully balanced with the in-depth knowledge and the holistic education offered by universities,” said Didak.
Training needs are continuously changing and that highlights the importance of fostering an analytical mindset, and not just responding to the current demands of the labour market. “In this context, we should broaden the focus of micro-credentials from green and digital transitions to the wider societal challenges covered by universities,” said Didak.
The proposals will now land in the hands of the member states which are expected to settle on the final non-binding policy recommendations.