A European approach to micro-credentials

Micro-credentials offer more flexible and modular learning opportunities. Having a European approach will help widen learning opportunities and strengthen the role of higher education and vocational education and training institutions in lifelong learning.

What are micro-credentials?

A micro-credential is a proof of the learning outcomes that a learner has acquired following a short, transparently-assessed learning experience. They are awarded upon the completion of short stand-alone courses (or modules) done on-site or online (or in a blended format). 

Flexible learning

Micro-credentials open education up to more people because of their flexible, short-term nature. They are open to all types of learners. They can be particularly helpful for people who

  • are looking to build on their current knowledge rather than get a full degree
  • want to bridge a gap between degrees or their initial formal education and emerging labour market skills
  • want to upskill or reskill

Wide-reaching benefits

Micro-credentials make education more inclusive, as it is accessible to all types of learners through its flexible and short-term approach. A larger uptake of micro-credentials could foster educational and economic innovation and contribute to a sustainable post-pandemic recovery.

The short courses can be provided by higher and vocational education and training institutions, as well as by different types of private entities, as a quick response to labour market needs for specific skills. This is particularly relevant given the challenges posed by the economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why a European approach is needed

Micro-credentials were announced in the European Skills Agenda, published on 1 July 2020, as one of its 12 flagship actions to support the quality, transparency and uptake of micro-credentials across the EU. They were included in the September 2020 Communication on achieving the European Education Area by 2025 to emphasise higher education’s key role in supporting lifelong learning and reaching out to a more diverse group of learners. They were also included in the September 2020 Digital Education Action Plan.

Commission President von der Leyen stated her intention “to bring down barriers to learning and improve access to quality education”, underlying the relevance of lifelong learning.

A European approach is needed because

  • European labour markets are transforming rapidly, especially influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the twin digital and environmental transitions. More flexible learning opportunities are needed at all stages of life and across disciplines and sectors.
  • it will help to substantially widen learning opportunities and further shape the lifelong learning dimension in higher education, as it offers more flexible, learner-centred forms of education and training
  • a larger take-up of micro-credentials will serve social, economic and pedagogical innovation
  • it will scale up flexible, modular learning in a comparable manner throughout Europe, while ensuring agreed quality standards. As a result, it will be easier for learners to get these types of course recognised.

What are the next steps?

In spring 2020, the European Commission established an ad-hoc consultation group with experts on higher education from various European countries to propose a common definition and recommendations for a European approach to the development and uptake of micro-credentials in Europe. The group was composed of practitioners working at national authorities, in quality assurance agencies, higher education institutions and other relevant stakeholders from higher education. Guest speakers were invited to the different meetings to share their particular experience and input. This group held three virtual meetings between 26 May and 17 September 2020 and proposed a common European definition, common characteristics and a roadmap of actions.

This roadmap puts forward suggestions from this expert group for actions and timing needed at a European and national level to develop and implement a European approach to micro-credentials.

The suggested actions focus mainly on the higher education field, as per mandate of the group, but also address elements of a broader scope to cater for the other education and training fields.

This roadmap focuses on the following actions around micro-credentials:

  • developing common European standards for quality and transparency, together with all stakeholders (the education and training community and labour market actors, social partners, youth organisations, civil society, chambers of commerce, and employers, involving all Member States and European Higher Education Area countries)
  • exploring their inclusion in national qualification frameworks, with possible reference to the European Qualifications Framework
  • developing a list of trusted providers and fostering quality assurance processes
  • exploring how the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) can be used in their context in educations sectors beyond higher education
  • working on guidelines for a quicker recognition process by adapting existing validation and recognition instruments, or developing new ones
  • making it easier for individuals to store and showcase their micro-credentials to employers through Europass and its Digital Credentials infrastructure, and the European Student Card initiative
  • using them to improve access to lifelong learning opportunities by ensuring better permeability between education and training sectors, and ensuring informed learner choice by expanding guidance services underpinned by real time labour market data
  • providing EU support through the Erasmus+ Programme and Structural Funds for higher education, VET and other education and training institutions and training providers in order to promote the uptake of micro-credentials.

These outputs will feed into wider consultations covering all sectors of education and training to prepare a Council Recommendation on micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability, by the end of 2021.

Header image: © European Union, 2020.