Microcredentials – the new buzz word in post-secondary education. You’ve likely already heard of them.  In fact, you or someone on your team might already be involved in the development of microcredentials at SLC. The Province of Ontario has announced significant financial support for the development and implementation of such credentials. Our VP Academic and Dean of Program Development have openly discussed our intent as an institution to apply for this funding and push the development of microcredentials as part of our larger academic plan. While colleges will argue that microcredentials offer flexibility to industry coupled with affordability for potential students, faculty unions have a growing list of questions and concerns related to the larger impact of these credentials on the role of faculty and on the direction of post-secondary education and employment for the Province as a whole. As such, your LEC is examining the many complex factors involved as they arise, and continue to bring related concerns forward to management.

According to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario’s (HEQCO) report Making Sense of Microcredentials, a microcredential is a “representation of learning, awarded for completion of a short program that is focused on a discrete set of competencies….” They are intended to assist individuals in developing a very small, very specific, set of skills directly related to their field (or desired area of employment). In short, a microcredential is a sliver of learning, which effectively could lead to a sliver of a job–work that is paid less, is more precarious, and offers fewer (if any) opportunities for advancement.

We have heard microcredentials rationalized as an ‘affordable’ option for those needing skills quickly to acquire a job, since students can earn qualifications for certain work at a lower cost and in a shorter timeframe than a diploma or degree. While this may be true, when we consider the types of jobs these are likely to assist individuals in obtaining, one must ask if their income will justify or offset the debt incurred? This is especially troubling when we consider the groups hardest hit by the pandemic and their need to re-enter the workforce in coming months.

Over the past year faculty have been asked to “chunk” our Learning Plans (not just using the word “Module” instead of “Week”), effectively turning our courses into a collection of microcredentials. In so doing we are often being forced to separate content from itself and its context. This is NOT the intention of microcredentials.

Issues surrounding micro-credentials have been raised at Union-College Committee meetings and in other meetings and communications with management. In particular, a recommendation from the HEQCO report was brought to the attention of management:

…microcredentials are just one component of an effective lifelong learning system. They hold value primarily in their function as a complement to traditional education, not a replacement. Microcredentials should serve to upskill adult learners with specific training needs, and those whose prior learning and experience has already provided a strong foundation of knowledge and transferable skills. When thinking about learners entering the postsecondary system directly from high school, we see more value in teaching interconnected competency sets rather than…microcredentials.” (p.17)

The response from management, while not directly addressing union concerns, has been limited to “We are viewing them as pathways into our mainstream credentials and complementary post credentials for continuous learning.”

Many questions remain. If microcredentials are a direct response to industry needs, will industry dictate the curriculum? Will industry training materials be used instead of allowing faculty academic freedom? Will industry offload the costs and responsibilities of employee training to the colleges? In addition, since microcredentials can be offered via private institutions, they also risk further privatization of college education- how do our own affiliations benefit (e.g. Alpha)?

Your Local Union Executive (LEC) will continue to act to represent your best interests. Please do not hesitate to contact any member of the LEC if you have any questions or require assistance. Find contact information here.

For a brief yet thorough overview of micro-credentials and their implications, please see the latest newsletter from Local 110 (Fanshawe College).