The COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Education Council and the COAG Skills Council reviewed the AQF (Australian Qualifications Framework) last year, with recommendations to make the framework more robust and fit for future. Micro-credentials were discussed as part of the review, to address their increasing popularity and how they can be given greater recognition towards skill sets. This means that micro-credentials could be on the way to becoming an official and important part of the AQF.
Before micro-credential courses can take their place in the AQF, they must first be properly defined. The review recommends a definition created by Professor Beverley Oliver from Deakin University, who defines them as “a certification of assessed learning that is additional, alternative, complementary to or a component part of a formal qualification.”
Once clearly defined, the next step is to decide how micro-credentials should complement formal qualifications. Stakeholders considered two options: how to align them to AQF bands, and how to use them as credit recognition or for RPL (recognition of prior learning).
If micro-credentials are to achieve credit towards an AQF qualification, they must align with its learning outcomes, with a suitable degree of depth and complexity. By aligning a micro-credential to an AQF band, providers can understand the material to be studied for credit, and show students and employers the expected outcomes for the credential.
Some stakeholders were concerned about the smaller scope of micro-credentials, and whether they meet the full breadth of an AQF qualification. They noted that credit for a particular band can only be achieved in combination with other units, and as a contribution to the qualification, rather than a complete achievement.
For this to be validated, the governing authorities (ASQA, TEQSA, etc.) must be given the power to approve training providers’ use of shorter form credentials, and how they align to the AQF.
Given that credit-bearing micro-credentials differ from those that align with AQF bands, it’s necessary to define them separately. The review recommends the following definition for credit-bearing micro-credentials:
“Credit-bearing micro-credentials include assessment aligned to a formal qualification level. Achievement of the learning outcomes leads to an offer of admission to or credit towards at least one formal qualification, regardless of whether or not the offer is taken up by the learner. Credit-bearing micro-credentials mirror and contribute to the academic standards required in the target qualification. The duration and effort required by the learner are in keeping with the amount of credit earned in the target qualification(s).”
—Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework 
Providers are already offering qualification credit for shorter form credentials, so this option builds on current practice. QUT emphasised the potential of micro-credentials as part of RPL:
“There is perhaps more opportunity to respond to emerging demands of future learning and future students, through a more formalised, or standardised, sector wide approach to RPL, where all learning outside the AQF may be considered.”
— Queensland University of Technology
The review also recommended that shorter form credentials should complement full qualifications, rather than undermining them. Any changes to policy must reinforce the importance of full qualifications, emphasising that shorter form credentials should be used for upskilling/reskilling, or a pathway to a full qualification. An outline should be provided of the types of shorter form credentials that complement formal qualifications, with descriptions for how they contribute to lifelong learning.
The recommendations from the review require extensive work to be successful. Once the new guidelines are in place, providers, regulatory bodies, and other stakeholders will need to revise their regulations/policies to accommodate them. But once the work is done, training providers can offer new, officially sanctioned micro-credentials that open up new educational paths for students.
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