Education leaders representing universities and other higher education institutions, along with government, industry and EdTech stakeholders share their insights and experiences about micro and alternative credentials in our 2023 global micro-credentials survey. Research was conducted in February-March 2023, and findings are compared with HolonIQ's survey from February-March 2021.
Adoption of micro-credentials
Whilst there has been progress in the emergence of frameworks, regulation and funding for micro-credentials over the last few years, institutional adoption of micro-credentials is still in developmental stages. Nearly 1 in 5 indicate that micro-credentials are non-existent at their institution (the same proportion as in 2021) and nearly two-thirds describe their adoption as 'emerging'. We do see some change, however, in those describing their adoption of micro-credentials as 'mature' - increasing from 7% in 2021 to 13% in 2023.
Currently, the application of micro-credentials within institutions remains mostly focused on short-courses, with fewer universities using micro-credentials as part of degree programs. The short course space offers lower barriers to entry for micro-credentials in institutions, and often a more natural ‘fit’ to their non-accredited offerings.
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Institutional strategy and policy
A notable change in this year's results sees over a third of respondents confident that their institution has a micro-credential policy, compared with around 1 in 5 in 2021. This suggests that institutions are not only creating and implementing policies, but also communicating them to staff. At the same time, the proportion of those who say their institution definitely does not have a policy has shrunk 10%, from 26% to 16% in 2023.
88% of our sample agree, or strongly agree, that their institution or organization sees alternative and micro-credentialing as an important strategy for their future. Whilst the percentage of those who 'strongly agree' has cooled a little since 2021, the overall sentiment remains broadly supportive, with commentary supporting this.
"The value propositions associated with the proliferation of micro-credentials and skills-based learning and recognition is largely contingent on satisfying a diverse cohort of stakeholders. I'm excited to see where this goes in the next year."
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Barriers and challenges to micro-credential adoption
Adoption of micro-credentials at scale appears most constrained by issues relating to recognition and quality assurance, although this perception has reduced from 57% in 2021 to 44% in 2023. Meanwhile, there appears to be little progress on understanding of what micro-credentials are, with almost a third of our sample citing this as a barrier compared with 22% in 2021. Complexity may also be an issue (14%) but trust perhaps less so - only 6% of respondents thought this was a barrier compared to 11% in 2021.
Respondent comments noted in particular the importance of regulatory and quality assurance support for micro-credentials, driven by governments and accreditation bodies. Others note challenges relating to digital capability and data integration, for example, with various systems in play from employers, universities and government requirements.
"Beyond universities, accreditation bodies should lead the way to establish a process that enables universities to build AMCs into the learning journey. As much as universities can be progressive, if the accreditation body does not embrace AMCs, universities might risk their accreditation - which they won't do..."
"Government recognition and support are important, consider embedding Micros within qualification frameworks(credibility), scalability"
"For us, the biggest challenge is data integrations between micro-credential offerings and employer HR systems."
Expectations for higher education and industry micro-credentials
Higher education leaders are expecting micro-credentials to be integrated within most university degree programs in the future. Whilst 95% of our sample agreed with this, again the sentiment is 'settling' a little, with fewer responses at the extremes. This year, just 5% disagreed that micro-credentials would be integrated into most programs, down almost 10% since 2021.
We may be seeing a generally increased acceptance of micro-credentials into the university landscape here, as accrediting bodies, governments and regulators continue to explore ways to support and potentially fund these forms of learning.
"Micro-credentials are a credible replacement to college credits today, but not really to a degree program (this comes with stackability improvements)"
Most university leaders expect that industry credentials will become a credible alternative to degree programs in the near future, or note that they are, in fact, already a credible alternative. This highlights continued awareness among university leaders of the importance of industry and job relevant higher education.
"Quality assurance and credibility of the provider along with mobility of the micro-credentials are really important for the recognition of such form of prior learning of skills and competencies."
"As more and more non-education entities are offering micro-credentials, cross industry standards must be established and blockchain credentialing verification services adopted."
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Global Insights from HolonIQ’s Intelligence Unit. Powered by our Global Impact Intelligence Platform.