Microcredentials at Polish universities – are we ready for this?

According to a report by the National Information Processing Institute (OPI) entitled “Microcredentials as a new direction for the development of higher education,” much could be gained from the implementation of microcredentials by Polish higher education institutions, their employees, as well as students and graduates.

Read on and you will learn:

  • What are the findings in the OPI report “Microcredential as a new direction for higher education”?
  • What are the benefits of implementing microcredentials to higher education institutions?
  • How can microcredentials benefit students and graduates?
  • What challenges will higher education face in implementing microcredentials?

The OPI report, released in March 2024, presents findings on the attitudes in higher education towards microcredentials. This is an important study that fills a gap in the state of research on this issue in Poland. One of the few studies addressing the issue is the 2022 IBE report.

Admittedly, it is not possible to talk about microcredentials in general based on OPI’s study, but rather about the attitudes towards them in higher education. This is because the idea of microcredentials is something new, many people have not yet encountered it. Given such a situation, a representative quantitative survey on this issue would probably not pass the test of research reliability.

Instead, we have an interesting exploration of the topic in a specific institutional area. Higher education, next to the ICT industry that is mainly targeted by our project, will be an area where digital credentials for ‘smaller units of learning’ are likely to become popular quickly.

– comments Dr. Ziemowit Socha, a researcher and expert on microcredentials at the Educational Research Institute (IBE).

Microcredentials – benefits for higher education institutions

One of the key findings of the report is that the state of knowledge about microcredentials among higher education representatives varies. This means that some people encountered the term for the first time by participating in the OPI survey. As mentioned above, microcredentials are a new concept in Poland. However, knowledge about them is likely to become more widespread as member countries implement them following the recommendation of the Council of the European Union. Moreover, as further conclusions of the report show, microcredentials seem to be an answer to the many needs of both students and universities themselves.

IBE has been operating a pilot microcredentials project since October 2023. In a way, it is a research project, but in it we are not surveying the opinions of respondents, but checking the actual readiness of various entities to develop their individual microcredentials or larger sets of them. We are also working on disseminating basic information about microcredentials, and the report can confirm our simple intuition that promoting knowledge about this solution is particularly needed in higher education.

– says Ziemowit Socha.

Students and graduates see microcredentials as an opportunity for simpler confirmation of the knowledge they have acquired, in addition to being described as “concrete” and “closer to their interests.” Many pointed to the reputation and quality of microcredentials, which can help them strengthen their position in the job market.

As recipients of microcredentials, students and graduates point to the electronic format as the preferred form for issuing microcredentials. This is an important signal for us as developers of the Odznaka+ application, which will be used to issue and collect badges and microcredentials in digital form.

– adds Ziemowit Socha.

Higher education staff pointed out that the implementation of a microcredential system can help the institution in building its image as modern and student-friendly. This helps with promotion and can support in overcoming, among other things, the effects of the demographic decline, which is taking its toll on universities.

Higher education representatives who participated in the survey declared that they expect support with the implementation of microcredentials. IBE is responding to these needs. Our project is currently being piloted, but in subsequent stages or projects, we will use the experience gained to help higher education and other institutions with issuing microcredentials.

– reports Ziemowit Socha.

Microcredentials in higher education – challenges

Survey participants shared their concerns about integrating microcredentials into university operations. These include:

  • the lack of a well-defined legal and organisational framework for implementing microcredentials,
  • the lack of knowledge about what microcredentials are and how to implement them,
  • uncertainty about the quality of individual courses for which microcredentials are issued.

One of the main goals of our project is to develop Polish quality standards for issuing microcredentials. We are also working on a legal and organisational frame of reference so that any institution wishing to issue microcredentials in the future will meet certain quality requirements. Without these standards, of course, we can still talk about ‘open badges’, but the time of microcredentials is still ahead of us. Fortunately, we have clarified the general definition from the EU Council Recommendation and are defining, in cooperation with partners, what is essential in order to reliably and, most importantly, effectively confirm the skills needed in the labour market.

– replies Ziemowit Socha.