Australian move to regulate microcredential credit welcomed

Australian Qualifications Framework overhaul also recommends decoupling of knowledge and skills

October 28, 2019
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Standard rules will govern the extent to which short courses such as massive open online courses and micro-master’s can count towards Australian degrees, under proposed changes to the country’s qualifications architecture.

Peter Noonan, chair of the panel reviewing the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), said guidelines were necessary to guarantee the quality of the assorted microcredentials now offered or being developed by 36 Australian universities and a host of other colleges, professional bodies and certifying agencies.

There was a need for “rules, clarity and transparency” when microcredentials represented credit towards AQF qualifications such as diplomas or bachelor’s degrees, Professor Noonan said. He warned that confidence in the higher education system would be jeopardised if, for example, the provider of a particular microcredential negotiated different credit arrangements at different universities.

“The institution offering maximum recognition would get all the business,” he said. “There’s a risk that it becomes a free-for-all, where everybody makes up their own rules.”

Professor Noonan said that, while authorities needed to be careful not to over-regulate a newly developing market in microcredentials, “guidance” was warranted.

The panel says the guidelines should outline the characteristics that facilitate the recognition of microcredentials for credit transfer, and the principles to be used to match them to particular AQF “bands”.

But Professor Noonan said it would be up to regulators to decide whether to enforce the guidelines. “In the first instance, we’d say it should be in the form of guidance which universities should observe – and I think they will,” he said.

The recommendation is among 21 offered in the review’s 150-page final report. The panel stopped short of proposing that microcredentials be awarded their own AQF category, saying such a move would increase the red-tape burden on institutions and hamper the development of new courses.

“You’d have to create literally dozens of different microcredential types, and certify them and accredit the providers issuing them,” Professor Noonan said. “That’s not the purpose of the AQF.”

The report calls for more flexibility in the AQF, in line with recent trends in European qualification frameworks. But Professor Noonan said it differed from the other frameworks by abandoning the notion that knowledge and skills and the way they were used should all be “locked in” together at discrete levels.

“You can’t say that knowledge and skills rise lock-step – that if you’ve got eight levels of knowledge, you have to have eight levels of skill,” he said. “Otherwise you end up writing extra words to create levels that don’t really exist.”

The review recommends replacing the AQF’s 10 current levels with eight knowledge bands and six skill bands. It also recommends more overlap between higher and vocational qualifications.

Conor King, executive director of the Innovative Research Universities mission group, said that would be an improvement on the current arrangement, under which vocational credentials languished below higher education degrees in the qualifications hierarchy. He also backed the idea of separating knowledge and skills.

“Vocational education graduates can be more skilled than higher education graduates, if less knowledgeable,” he noted.

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