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Home » Education » Ireland is leading the way in the micro-credential revolution

Dr Lynn Ramsey

Director, MicroCreds

Tony Donohue

Chair, Expert Group on Future Skills Needs

Seven Irish universities and the enterprise sector have put their combined weight behind a new initiative which provides accredited small units of learning geared towards the public and industry’s needs.

Micro-credentials are small units of learning focused on key skills; flexible and agile in terms of how they are delivered. With micro-credentials there is quality assurance around the quality of the teaching, learning and assessment as well as a credential at the end which demonstrates the learning outcomes that have been achieved.

The focus is on areas where skills gaps have been identified, or where future skills gaps are anticipated by enterprise. Micro-credentials are designed in the first instance to help businesses in Ireland, large and small, to address a particular business need that they have. In a competitive jobs market, they are envisaged as an attractive highly flexible way for firms to attract and retain highly skilled talent.

They can be completed as single learning units, or a number can be stacked together into a larger learning credential or award. The importance for businesses and individuals taking part is that they are relevant, and worth the time investment put into them.

Championing education progress

MicroCreds is a €12.3 million five-year project (2020-2025) led by the IUA in partnership with UCD, UCC, UL, TCD, DCU, NUIG and Maynooth University.

New Zealand and Canada are among the earliest adopters of micro-credentials. However, Europe, who is about to adopt an official recommendation on micro-credentials, is regarded as the world leader. In Ireland, partner universities and enterprise are working together, with an Enterprise Advisory Group to ensure that the content is relevant to business and delivered appropriately.

Ireland’s small size means that the universities, National Skills Architecture and Enterprise are used to working together collaboratively, and the European Commission regards Ireland as a ‘microcred’ champion, who is a global leader in putting the building blocks required in place.

The involvement of the universities will showcase micro-credentials to the public and encourage lifelong learning right across society. The universities are currently working closely with the enterprise and national skills architecture in Ireland to meet advanced and future skills priorities.

Micro-credentials are designed in the first instance to help businesses in Ireland, large and small, to address a particular business need that they have.

Applications for businesses

Key skills and knowledge sets that have been identified that can benefit people working in the enterprise sector. One is focused around achieving lower carbon emissions and what specific industry needs are needed here.

A second area that has been identified is digital technology and AI which are transforming so many sectors and enterprises. The people who stand to benefit here are those whose job requires an understanding of these areas but is not a specialist in them.

It is vital, from an industry perspective, that university quality assurance mechanisms underpin and support micro-credential learning. They are designed to suit the needs of owners and managers of SMEs, who often have huge demands on their working time.

How the micro-credentials are delivered is crucial, with learning being highly flexible to engage enterprise. The typical SME owner/manager focuses on the customer and the immediate threats or opportunities to the business, so it is key that the return for their investment of time is clear.

Ambitious targets set

In early 2023, a new online discovery platform will be launched by MicroCreds to act as a central repository of micro-credentials on offer by the seven universities involved in the initiate.

As well as providing for the skill needs of industry, there are ambitious targets for encouraging lifelong learning generally, and communicating the value of this program of micro-credential learning.

MicroCreds was awarded €12.3 million in funding following a competitive process under the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science’s (DFHERIS) Human Capital Initiative Pillar 3 Innovation and Agility, with funding drawn from the National Training Fund.

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