Universities too ‘comfortable’ to embrace microcredentials

OECD education director Andreas Schleicher urges shift towards lifelong learning, but says universities enjoy ‘nice monopoly rent’ from status quo

March 14, 2023

Microcredentials offer a route to an employment market where what you know matters more than whether you studied at Oxford or Harvard, but universities resist change because they can reap “nice monopoly rent” from the status quo, according to Andreas Schleicher.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s director for education and skills told Times Higher Education that the supply of skills was “front-loaded in the initial phase of your life”, when there needed to be a shift towards lifelong learning.

“I would give people more ownership over what they learn, how they learn, where they learn, when in their life they learn – I think it’s going to be absolutely crucial,” he continued.

THE Campus podcast: the big ideas behind microcredentials

Change was needed to remedy a situation in which “we do nothing for people at the margins of employment, who are at risk from automation, who want to learn for their next job”.

Mr Schleicher, speaking before giving the Higher Education Policy Institute’s annual lecture, said life for universities was “actually very comfortable. You bundle content, delivery, accreditation – you can get a quite nice monopoly rent.”

There was, he continued, little incentive for universities to change because it was “cheaper, easier” to cater for students early in their lives, given that “people who come mid-career are a lot more demanding. They will basically say ‘I know how I learn and I want you to serve me rather than pushing me through some programme.’”

But there was also a need to challenge the widespread mindset among workers of “degree thinking: I’m finished, I’ve completed my study”, to “break that mould and get more people in an upskilling mentality”.

Microcredentials created “the possibility to make what you know and can do visible, in smaller increments, and get employers better signals of what people know and can do”, he argued.

In his lecture, Mr Schleicher told the audience that in the existing labour market much signalling came from where someone went to university, whether they “come from Oxford, or Harvard and so on…we need to become better at recognising people for what they know and what they can do. I really think this is where microcredentials hold enormous promise.”

There was a role for public policy in stimulating microcredential provision by regulating on the basis of outcomes, Mr Schleicher said.

That was needed to remedy the status quo where we “leave the credentialling to the providers”, to universities, he told THE. “We wouldn’t do that in any other areas. We wouldn’t have manufacturers doing the regulation of quality assurance.”



Print headline: Universities ‘resisting’ microcredentials shift

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Reader's comments (5)

I always thought "micro" meant "one millionth", which would be less than a second of learning.
Some people benefit from the micro credentials. We have lots of students asking for these courses as it helps them with getting jobs and promotions.
Some people benefit from the micro credentials. We have lots of students asking for these courses as it helps them with getting jobs and promotions.
Universities aren't in the business of providing micro-credentials because they shouldn't be in the business of education. The purpose of university should be to provide education to learners, not to provide ranking services to the consumers of those educators. Lifelong learning is vitally important, and should be more common. But why do those undertaking this learning need "credentials"?
@Ian Sudbery, 100%. If we're talking about vocational education, that's tailored to specific set of skills for a career, then employers, professional organizations or vocational schools should provide that. We're not best suited for this.