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Questions and answers: Individual learning accounts and micro-credentials

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 10 december 2021.

What are individual learning accounts? Who can benefit from them?

These are virtual wallets, established by national authorities, for every person of working age. This includes the employed, self-employed, those in atypical forms of work, and the unemployed and people outside the labour force.

As part of the proposal, national authorities would ensure adequate annual provision of individual training entitlements to these accounts, with higher amounts for people most in need of training. People would be able to accumulate these entitlements and use them throughout their career. This would allow people to embark on longer or more costly training or to train in order to update or complete their skills' set and in response to emerging skills needs in the labour market.

Beyond the account itself and the provision of an entitlement, an enabling framework is essential to help people take up training. This framework should include access to career guidance and validation opportunities, paid training leave, a public national registry of quality-assured and labour market relevant training that is eligible for funding from the learning accounts and a single national digital portal with a secure electronic authentication and connection to the registry.

It will be for Member States to decide on the design of the individual learning accounts, including the amount and financing of entitlements, as well as on how the enabling framework will be delivered.

What are micro-credentials? Who can benefit from them?

A micro-credential is the record of the learning outcomes that a learner has acquired following a small learning experience (e.g. certificate, award). Micro-credentials are already widely used in many education and training sectors, professions and labour markets. The aim of the Commission's proposal is to establish a European approach that gives a common definition for micro-credentials, provides common standards, and improves recognition across borders. Micro-credentials can support targeted, flexible upskilling and reskilling to meet new and emerging needs in society and the labour market. Given their flexibility, micro-credentials can be designed and delivered by a variety of providers in many different settings.

Micro-credentials can be used as part of targeted measures to support labour market activation and inclusion. Micro-credentials are not limited to any category of the population. They are for everyone, regardless of age, employment or education level.

Why do we need individual learning accounts and micro-credentials?

The success of both the digital and green transitions depends on workers with the right skills, and the need to act fast puts high demands on Member States' support systems for continuous learning. Moreover, demographic change in Europe means that we need to activate everyone's full potential, in order to ensure sustainable growth. Lastly, recovering from the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a reinforced policy on skills to support successful professional transitions where needed.

Skills development is a fundamental part of the response to these challenges and open the door to more job opportunities. Skills are a centrepiece of the European way of life as they are a key driver for individuals' success in a fast changing labour market.

However, so far, not enough people are taking part in learning and training to expand their knowledge and skills once they leave formal education. In 2016, only 37% of adults participated in annual training. The European Pillar of Social Action Plan includes a 2030 target that at least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.

Our proposals for individual learning accounts and micro-credentials will make it easier for people to access quality-assured learning and training opportunities, make their skills more visible and get support in order to identify learning opportunities that help them improve their career, studies and personal development.

What is the link between the Commission's proposals for individual learning accounts and micro-credentials?

The proposals offer concrete tools that make it easier for individuals to step into learning and help them advance in their careers. At a practical level, Member States can include training courses leading to micro-credentials in their registry of recognised opportunities that are eligible for funding from individual learning accounts.

How do micro-credentials relate to existing qualifications?

Micro-credentials are complementary to traditional, formal qualifications. There are already thousands of micro-credentials on offer by higher education and Vocational Education and Training (VET) institutions, private providers, public and non-profit bodies, government departments and international organisations. The European approach to micro-credentials seeks to enhance the quality, transparency and use of these micro-credentials.

Will people be able to pursue any type of learning activity they want, whenever they want?

For individual learning accounts, Member States are invited to work closely with social partners and relevant partners to establish the learning accounts and supporting framework, including a public national registry with eligible training. Within this framework, learners will be able to choose where, when and what to learn, in line with their career goals, personal needs and reflecting job and skills demand on the labour market. The aim is to ensure people's ownership of their accounts, keeping their training entitlements even when they move between jobs, between work and learning, employment and unemployment, and activity and inactivity.

How will these initiatives be implemented?

Once adopted by the Council, Member States are encouraged to implement these initiatives:

  • Member States are invited to put in place individual learning accounts and an enabling framework to support people in finding the most suitable labour market relevant training opportunities, by working closely together with social partners and relevant stakeholders. They are invited to systematically monitor and evaluate the operation of the individual learning accounts and enabling framework and make adjustments as needed to achieve the objective of this Recommendation in the most efficient way. Social partners have a key role in helping Member States design national individual learning accounts and the enabling framework.
  • On micro-credentials, the Recommendation will be implemented by the Member States and any provider of micro-credentials. This includes education and training institutions, such as higher education institutions and vocational education and training organisations, as well as social partners, employers and industry, civil society organisations and national authorities. They will work together to design, deliver and issue micro-credentials for formal, non-formal and informal learning.

How will the individual learning accounts be funded?

Member States will determine the arrangements for ensuring adequate and sustainable funding of individual learning accounts.

Individual learning accounts support the idea of cost-sharing, as they allow contributions from different sources, such as public authorities and employers, to be bundled and managed in a single account. For example, Public Employment Services could help fund additional individual training entitlements for unemployed people, and employers could provide top-ups for their employees (including as an outcome of collective bargaining agreements).

Member States may also benefit from EU support, including from the European Social Fund Plus, the European Regional Development Fund and the Just Transition Fund, as well as the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The Erasmus+ programme can also provide support to education and training organisations to develop small courses leading to micro-credentials.

How will people have access to individual learning accounts?

The proposal recommends that Member States set up and maintain a single national digital portal, easily accessible via mobile devices (e.g. through a digital app). This portal will increase transparency on available training and support opportunities at national level and allow users to access easily their individual accounts, review their available individual training entitlements and consult the national registry of training offers.

Will individual learning accounts replace training schemes that already exist?

The proposal does not aim to replace existing schemes. It is complementary to existing schemes like the social partner training funds. Individual learning accounts can help increase training participation urgently needed to successfully master the green and digital transition. The possibility of accumulating training entitlements and the availability of accounts for all working-age adults, including those who do not have an employment contract and cannot benefit from employer-organised training, can make a real difference.

What do these initiatives mean for employers?

Employers have a key role in supporting the upskilling and reskilling of working-age adults and should be active partners in the design and roll-out of both initiatives. They can provide information on new and emerging skills needs and help design, and ensure the relevance of individual learning accounts and micro-credentials. They can help by providing guidance and information on training and career development opportunities and contributing to decisions on training (including courses leading to micro-credentials) included in the national registry supporting individual learning accounts. They can also provide funding to employees' accounts and grant paid training leave.

What is the role of higher education institutions in providing small learning courses leading to micro-credentials?

Higher education and training organisations are already actively exploring and developing the use of micro-credentials. Higher education institutions have the capacity and experience with innovative teaching methods, as well as established quality assurance processes that can be adapted for micro-credentials. Strong cooperation between education and training organisations and the private sector is essential to provide both high quality and relevant education and training offers, in particular for the short learning experiences.

Providing small learning courses can expand the higher education institutions' role in providing continuous and lifelong learning. By offering new flexible ways of learning and by ensuring an easier certification of these short learning courses, it will also encourage and facilitate the participation of more diverse groups of learners in higher education.

Through the co-creation of content and close exchange when it comes to the required competences and skills, micro-credentials could help further improve the responsiveness of higher education to the needs of the labour market and expand the outreach and societal relevance of higher education.

Can micro-credentials be ‘stacked' to lead to a full degree?

Any decision to stack or combine micro-credentials to create larger credentials such as degrees is to be made by the relevant authority in charge of awarding degrees. While some countries allow for the stacking of several micro-credentials to be combined into a full or partial degree, the proposal neither promotes nor excludes the possibility. Each country is responsible of organising its own system for education and training.

How do micro-credentials fit in with existing initiatives like Europass and the European Qualifications Framework?

Europass is a framework of tools and services to help people manage their careers and lifelong learning. Elements of the Europass framework can be used as part of the EU approach to micro-credentials:

  • individual users of Europass can store and share information on their micro-credentials in a secure way in their Europass profile;
  • providers can issue digital, authentic, and tamper-proof micro-credentials using European Digital Credentials for Learning (which were established through Europass); and,
  • information on micro-credentials can be published on the ‘search courses' section of Europass.

The European Qualifications Framework is a learning outcomes-based framework for all types of qualifications. It serves as a translation tool between different national qualifications frameworks. Micro-credentials may be included in national qualifications frameworks, where relevant, and in line with national priorities and decisions.

For More Information

Press release on Individual Learning Accounts and Micro-credentials

Factsheet

Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on Individual Learning Accounts

Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on Micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability

European Skills Agenda

European Pillar of Social Rights

Communication on achieving a European Education Area by 2025


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