Microcredentials: Stale wine, broken bottles?


To understand the state of new imagination in Higher Ed, it's best to look at the recent buzz around microcredentials. Touted to be the next big thing - after what? MOOCs? - this is one big non-event that everyone is talking about.

Ask anyone in the academia why microcredentials is such a great thing, the answer will focus on the 'micro' part rather than the 'credential' part. That it is short - less than one course credit - is supposed to be the exciting part. It seems that the universities, until now, did not notice that people learned, whether there was a course credit for it or not. Therefore, this is like Columbus' 'discovery' of America: It did not matter that some people lived there already!

Perhaps it indeed is like Columbus' discovery: It is not about creating a space but claiming it for oneself! It is a defensive rather than an innovative move for the academia. There is a growing chasm between what the people need to learn - primarily due to technological and social change - and what the universities offer. Even the employers, whose insistence of qualifications proxy kept the universities viable, are now looking at alternative ways of judging people's capabilities. Shorn of ways to keep growing, the universities are now looking to reclaim some of the informal learning space with their monopoly power!

This has happened before. It is possible to see the history of modern education as a contest between the college and the coffeehouse! The industrial revolution - changing norms of life and work - brought into existence different spaces and forms of learning. These filled the gap outside the university walls, providing people with new ways of thinking, engaging and doing things. These, I would argue, opened the gates and invited everyone, including the women, in, and more ways than one, kept capitalism going. 

This educational public sphere receded from the view in the last hundred years, as formal education expanded to take up the space. Indeed, I overgeneralise and there was always the open spaces outside the gates of the universities: company training, vocational education, reading groups, museums, amateur magazines and finally the internet! The conversations were always going on and knowledge was being formed through sharing and building upon. But state-funded universities, a nineteenth century thing which became fashionable around the mid-twentieth, were always looking to take over the spaces left open, always striving to impose structures on the production and sharing of knowledge. 

We are at one such point - too much is happening outside the universities. Hence, this lastest 'innovation' - credentials for less! The hope is that rolling over the university name will discipline the market and steal the wind from the sails of the alternative providers. This was exactly the idea behind the MOOCs, which has now certified failed; this was once the idea of short courses, which never really began. We are at it again, with a new name to justify new funding, with ideas stale enough to keep the academic nerves calm.

However, I hope, this time, the times are really different. We have carefully built a citadel of ideas over the last half-century, which is now at the point of dismantling. Technology has changed, but more so, the ideas environment is so very different. We are facing a new demographic and geopolitical reality - that of a fragmented world and shrinking workforce! The globalising university in the quest of limitless labour supply and expanding opportunities may now be a thing of the past. New thinking is coming everywhere: At work, in life and at the spaces of being ourselves! Our academia is watching the life go by and the best they can do is to start another conversation about entitlements - credentials must be awarded by the universities! This is just too late for that. 















Preceptor said…
You are right - the horse has bolted from the stadium - to use an English idiom.
If people really want recogntion for some hours studying an online course, Continuing Prfessional Development (CPD) credit has better currency.
The problem with HE is that it has conflated its model with its mission and when the model is broken so is the misssion. There are many aspects of the finncial model are broken so solving one will not help. To attract funding for research, the instition has to been seen to be prestigious and staff must spend a great deal of time writing academic papers or books with less time for teaching and obtaining research funding is very competitive as more and more university have started believing that at £9,600 per student they have a cash cow and less and less research funding is available from goverment. As the newer universities, borrowed vast sums to have buildings and facilities that competed with the older ones, the older universities were quick to play catch up and also borrowed vast sums. Both new and old were convinced they could continue rip-off overseas students by charging more than double the UK fee and profit from more investment in student accomodation. Once the funding of courses was transferred from the government to the student, the argument for charging overseas students extra was no longer valid, but the students kept on coming unilt Covid - just a 2 year drop in overseas student income has brought many UK Universities to near bankruptcy. And once learners were taught online, many realised that they did not need to come to the UK. Some Universities really responded quite well and their online offering was of very high quality - others struggle to change to online and settled for tutors (with no knowledge of Online INstrcutional Design or or online pedagogy (that can create a real sense of presence and social interaction). The result was a mix bag of response to online but eventually all universities will have to have a quality back-up mode of delivery -Covid is just one pandemic - others are on the way. The sum total is that £9,600 fee, which should have allowed universities to have some spare cash for the future, is being used just to maintain the instition (vast amounts being swallowdd up by interest on loans and rip-off PFI contracts) - less than 30% is devoted to the teaching on the subject. Finally, the recent by the government to reduce its unsustainable funding of students loan, is of course doomed to fail as it does not address the underling fautlt in thinking behind student loans, namely the encouragment of debt, when there is a solution which would actually produce more 'work-ready' graduates, namely, Earn & Save as you Lear. There tinkering with the system as proposedwill hit th poor hardest (see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/feb/24/england-student-loan-changes-will-hit-poor-hardest-official-analysis-finds ).

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