The right to learning includes micro-credentials


Fortunately Australia is further advanced on this than we sometimes imagine

Last week UNESCO’s seventh International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) was hosted by the government of Morocco. I was honoured to be part of an on-line panel organised by the European Commission, which comprised government representatives from Singapore, the Netherlands, France and a representative from the European Training Foundation.

The panel’s focus was “Responding to the Skills Revolution – development of skills through innovative instruments” and despite the differences between the countries represented on the panel – the commonality of the issues being faced and some of the tools being used was noticeable.

Individual learning accounts have been in operation in Singapore since 2015 (through Skills Future) and are also a priority of the European Commission as a means of underpinning the principle of learning as an individual right.

A version of this funding approach, conceived as an entitlement to learning, was of course deployed in Australia in the VET system more than a decade ago. Regrettably, as a consequence of poor programme design, poor oversight and the fraudulent motives of some providers, these efforts were subsequently wound back. However as other high-income countries look to meet the upskilling and reskilling needs of their citizens (as jobs transform due to technological change and new jobs emerge, e.g. in the green economy) it seems likely that Australia too will need to re-look at funding models to support learning as an individual right, and in doing so that funding for upskilling and reskilling will increasingly be spent on microcredentials rather than full qualifications.

Fortunately Australia is further advanced on this than we sometimes imagine. Although we have only just formalised our national micro-credential framework, in VET at least we have been delivering and assessing shorter chunks of learning for decades.

Currently one-quarter of all enrolments in VET each year are in sub-qualification programs (i.e. defined as micro-credentials in the new framework). And, since COVID, some state and territory governments have deployed substantial funding to shorter courses – in New South Wales in the first nine months of 2021, 20 per cent of government-funded students were enrolled in skillsets, followed by Western Australia (12 per cent), Tasmania and the ACT (8 per cent). Although by contrast only 1 per cent of government-funded students in Victoria enrolled in skillsets.

Against this backdrop it will be interesting to see what position the new Commonwealth government takes on funding for micro-credentials in the next National Skills Agreement.

Claire Field wishes to thank Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver, Professor Sally Kift and the European Commission for the opportunity to address the conference