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How could micro-credentials affect traditional tertiary study?

Yesterday I came across an interesting piece of content on LinkedIn: a post by an individual who had completed a micro-credential course in digital journalism.

The short course was free, online and awarded by Reuters, one of the largest (and most respected) news organisations in the world.

This piqued my interest: What other jobs in the future will really require formal qualifications such as an undergraduate degree for entry-level positions? Sure, formal qualifications will probably always be needed in professions such as medicine, law and even education, but for what else?

And what about upskilling - will micro-credentials be the norm in the future when graduates have already gained formal qualifications? And, finally, if Reuters is creating such short and accessible courses, do higher education institutions in Australia need to become more cognisant or responsive to the fact that a new competitor is already on the block - industry?

For instance, in addition to Reuters, micro-credential courses are being offered by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) and the Australian National Institute of Management and Commerce.

An example of how micro-credentials have begun to gain momentum in the university sector can be seen at Torrens University, as well as a host of others including UTS, Deakin, Edith Cowan University and the University of Melbourne, to name but a few. Torren’s suite of free and online “on demand” courses are targeted at telehealth, a service that has been used extensively by health professions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In a country like Australia, dotted with remote and rural communities, telehealth is, quite literally, a lifesaver,” former general practitioner and deputy vice-chancellor of research at Torrens University Professor Justin Beilby said. 

“It has been an essential tool throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and it would be preferred that telehealth become part of the normal suite of tools we will use as health practitioners.” 

The university’s one-hour course, Connecting with Telehealth, has been developed to strengthen current telehealth services, as well as providing students with tips for how it can be incorporated in existing and future frameworks. More than 250 health practitioners have completed the course so far, ranging from nurses, doctors, mental health practitioners and other medical specialists. 

A recent article by Professor Denise Jackson from Edith Cowan University (ECU), titled The Changing Nature of Graduate Roles and the value of the degree, interrogates employers' perceptions of the changing nature of graduate roles, investigates the expectations and loyalties graduates hold towards their employers, and explores employers’ opinions of the value of an undergraduate degree and whether alternative pathways, including micro-credentials, could be suitable a form of preparation for “entry-level, professional roles.”

A highly relevant part of Jackson’s study, which relied on data from 21 participants in mainly managerial and/or HR roles, was that, although undergraduate degrees are still highly valued in some contexts, they aren't in others and therefore potentially limit graduate opportunities.

One of the respondents in the study said: “We see some roles and you go 'why do you need a degree?'"

“I’ve seen some roles advertised for executive assistants, and it’s like you must have a degree? Why? In what?”

The potential for micro credentialing was also underscored by the participants stating that “professional capabilities, attitude and experience were considered important” for entry-level positions. 

“A degree is important; but the people side is equally important,” a respondent said. 

Another said: “A university degree is only as good as how you want to use it. But, that attitude or that desire or that hunger to do well, that’s what sets anyone apart in the industry.”

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