In the past, we often judged education based on its formal accreditation or level. However, the tides are changing and a global trend is emerging where the focus is on competence and practical skills.
So, why is accreditation less important in the modern age? Is this a positive leap towards more accessible and pragmatic learning? With much to unpack, let’s start with how it affects employability.
The age-old concept of the highest level of education automatically increasing your competence has started to wean. In its place, employers have begun to seek out practical skills that courses – accredited or not – can validate. This is more relevant to the tasks at hand. An employer will want their prospective employee to be able to perform the tasks competently, regardless of whether they spent years at university.
According to Southern Star Institute, employers are becoming more comfortable hiring candidates based on a CV featuring skills and knowledge. This transition illustrates a shift from focusing on credentials to valuing pragmatic talents. One of the incredible benefits of this shift is the elevation of “employment equity.”
Another promising step in this department is corporate players endorsing courses. Companies like Google can endorse a programme by stating that, after examination, they would hire someone who has completed it. Employers can then trust that the course is up to standard. Ultimately, employers just want to see validated skills. Certificates without accreditation can prove that the candidate has the required skills just the same. Another element that has shifted is the effect on an individual’s earning potential.
Previously, a degree entitled an individual to a higher salary. The salary would then increase according to the degree’s level – someone with a master’s degree would earn more than someone with an undergraduate degree and so forth. The flaw in this structure is that a degree doesn’t necessarily signal more advanced competence. An employee without a degree may perform better than another who has a PhD. Their salaries should indicate their proficiency more than their academic level.
Just as employers are focusing less on hiring people without advanced degrees, they are paying more attention to individual talents when deciding on salaries. This is an incredibly positive stride because people will reap the benefits of their hard work and dedication without being held back by their education.
Now, how does this relate to the popularity of courses?
While some may debate that courses with accreditation are more popular, this depends on what an individual finds intrinsically desirable. If you want to change your title to Dr and have the esteem that we often associate with higher education, you may lean towards accredited programmes. However, if you want to further your skills and broaden your knowledge base, you don’t need to focus on credits. As careers often guide education, the new employment trend supports the second desire. Individuals want to know that their programme will teach them how to perform in a work environment. An accredited course does not automatically fulfil this area. In fact, some university students complete additional micro-credential certificates to compensate for this shortfall.
MicroHE conducted a study to determine the awareness of micro-credential courses and how useful participants deemed them. The researchers found that students saw recognition and accreditation as “an additional feature that can be nice to have, but [isn’t] necessary.” They wanted access to external information so that they could develop personal interests or promote advancement in the workplace. Although the study found divided results, many students were more interested in acquiring skills than having evidence of them. This indicates the start of a movement that may very well continue to grow.
A working professional will also have different priorities than someone fresh out of school. They may prioritise sharpening their skills over a macro-credential option. As with all areas that involve humans, it is a subjective choice. Therefore, educational institutions don’t need to fear this transition. It won’t negatively impact application rates – it will open up a new arena of relative free reign.
Before you can gain accreditation for your programme, the relevant board needs to approve it. This can consume precious time and resources. There are regular updates and improvements in academic fields and, in turn, you should be doing the same with your programme. If the approval process takes too long, your content may be outdated in the interim.
On the other hand, if you don’t chase accreditation, you can update your course content freely. This ensures the most up-to-date and accurate information. If you are concerned about losing prestige if the courses don’t have accreditation, the ability to painlessly improve your content can balance the doubt. A natural perception of accredited courses is that they guarantee quality – at least, to a certain extent. How true is this?
Since the approval process includes a review of the content, we are inclined to believe that an accredited course will surely be of the highest quality. However, these standards provide only a framework. The rest is open to interpretation and subjective standards. Additionally, you need to consider who is reviewing and approving the course. If the specific board has less than strict standards, you can’t immediately attribute quality to their approved courses. For example, if the board doesn’t fact check the content or focus much on the grammar, the course may be approved without being accurate or written well.
Institutions sometimes even complete internal quality reviews of their own courses. This is an independent process that isn’t compliance-based. Internal quality standards can differ from those in the accreditation process because institutions can decide on their writing styles, resources and so on.
Change may frighten some, but it is how we evolve and better our experiences. What was previously revered is now moving to a lower rung on the ladder of competence. Accreditation is synonymous with formal education – which some employers still prefer. However, there is a global trend towards validated competence through short courses and micro-credential programmes. As this movement steers us into the future of education, we can be confident that it may play a pivotal role in reducing the elitism that has long defined higher education.
MicroHE. (2019). Challenges and Opportunities of Micro-Credentials in Europe [online]. [accessed 30 March 2022].
Southern Star Institute. (no date). Importance of a Non-Accredited Course [online]. [accessed 30 March 2022].