Regional framework for microcredentials to be developed
According to his communiqué, issued on behalf of the CHE’s Higher Education Quality Committee on 23 March, the council, together with a range of national, regional and international partners, is to embark on the framework-development project.
According to Green, the rapid development of microcredentials as viable, flexible, responsive learning opportunities are taking place globally and many countries have adopted systemic approaches to introducing microcredentials in national or regional education and training systems.
Some countries and regions have embraced this more than others, and even in countries where it is being taken up, uptake may be uneven and uncoordinated, he added.
Microcredentials are essentially certified documents that provide recognised proof of the achievement of learning outcomes from shorter educational or training activities, such as certificates, digital badges, licences and apprenticeships.
Extent of provisioning ‘unknown’
According to the communiqué, the development of policies and strategies with regard to microcredentials in Southern Africa is just beginning.
Green said national qualifications frameworks have yet to formulate ways of adequately conceptualising and incorporating microcredentials, although some regional, government and quality assurance role-players have already developed discussion documents in this regard and a few higher education institutions and entities have draft frameworks under construction, or have taken up the opportunities afforded.
He said that, while microcredentials are increasingly available, the full extent of provisioning is unknown, along with their quality, relevance, usefulness, stackability and potential articulation and alignment with each other and other formal qualifications.
This has been confirmed by Dr James Keevy, a policy researcher in the education and training sector and the CEO of JET Education Services, an education organisation in South Africa. He told University World News that the issue of microcredentials has not been included in national policies yet in African countries, but there are discussions on the subject.
He has been involved in work on the African Continental Qualifications Framework (ACQF).
“Kenya and South Africa are grappling with that, Zambia, a little bit. Morocco, a little bit but they do not have a concept [plan] yet. Regional economic communities are also involved in that discussion. The EAC [East African Community], a little bit, SADC (Southern African Development Community), a little bit,” he said.
According to Keevy, universities are a little more advanced in terms of the discussions, probably because of international partnerships.
Eduarda Castel Branco, a senior human capital development expert at the European Training Foundation, with a focus on qualifications in Africa and coordinator and key expert of the African Continental Qualifications Framework (now entering phase two), said a wider conversation about microcredentials in Africa and an analysis thereof were needed in the region.
“During a recent trip to Botswana, Eswatini and South Africa the qualifications authorities were keenly interested in shaping the right approach to consider and recognise microcredentials, Microcredentials are here to stay and they can play a key role in opening up learning and certification systems to the digital and green transition and new skills needs,” she said.
“In the African Continental Qualifications Framework project, we have an activity planned related to microcredentials: stocktaking, analysis and recommendations. This analysis is [still] missing in Africa, and we need it to discuss this with national and regional authorities, [in the context of the] Addis Convention Committee, to determine the way forward.”
Green said there are several issues to consider in coming up with any framework such as a suitable definition for microcredentials in the Southern African context; whether they should be registered on national qualifications frameworks or other types of registers and whether they should be credit-bearing.
Other questions, according to him, that need to be addressed include: “How can recognition of microcredentials be enabled, including in workplaces? What is the relationship between microcredentials and full qualifications? Should microcredentials be recognised in formal qualifications?
Should the stacking of microcredentials towards the achievement of a qualification be permitted? What criteria are needed if this is to be permitted? How should the quality assurance of microcredentials and their offering be undertaken and by whom? Should a repository for microcredentials be set up? Who should take responsibility for this?
He said some higher educational institutions have already started offering microcredentials, but added that they have the responsibility of ensuring that quality and integrity are maintained throughout the value chain, from the design of the microcredential, its approval at institutional level, to its delivery and beyond.
He said institutions that are taking up this opportunity in the absence of a national policy framework are requested to have an institutional policy framework on the offering of microcredentials in place.
The institutional policy must cover aspects such as effective governance structures to oversee the development and offering of microcredentials, including rigorous approval processes, robust and ethical processes and procedures for the design, development and delivery of microcredentials; systems for approval and registration; adequate teaching and learning resources, and appropriate processes; assessment strategy and procedures and certification arrangements, among others.
“The issue of whether microcredentials can be credit-bearing bears specific mention. Regulations currently in place in higher education only allow for learning that is part of a qualification to be allocated credits on a particular level of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF),” said Green in the communiqué.
Credits for modules that are part of a formal qualification, but that are taken for non-degree purposes could be recognised as microcredentials that are credit-bearing.
This will allow for the possible recognition of this form of microcredential in formal qualifications through Credit Accumulation and Transfer mechanisms. Other microcredentials can be recognised through their inclusion in an assessed Portfolio of Evidence for Recognition of Prior Learning.
In 2022, University World News reported that some of the primary drivers of non-degree credentials are the widening gap between the type of education offered in traditional higher education institutions, the skills needed to work in today’s digital world and the lack of equal access to education which has highlighted a need for solutions that provide the skills that lead to work, particularly for marginalised populations.
The article said a significant number of people around the world have obtained some higher education credits, but have not earned a formal degree.
Also last year, a research article focusing on the emerging microcredentials field, including a snapshot of the global landscape, said Europe, the United States, New Zealand and Australia have taken the lead in supporting microcredentials, particularly among universities and colleges, with emerging developments occurring in Canada, Peru, Indonesia, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Malaysia, and others.
Institutions engaged in this type of learning were identified as Deakin University in Australia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the State University of New York, both in the United States, as well as Ontario Tech University in Canada, among others.
This news report was updated on 31 March and on 4 April.