Advance HE’s Kay Hack opened the event by explaining why the Island of Ireland Symposium was so important as we move towards a post-pandemic world. She said: “I think it is widely recognised that we are at a pivot point economically, socially and environmentally. Changes to ways of living, learning and working, driven by the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence, have accelerated during the pandemic.
“Post-Covid scenarios including a predicted global recession, longer working lives, AI and geographical shifts in centres of excellence for high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, finance, and IT will all impact the global demand for higher education.
“I think it is widely recognised and that this emerging skills landscape can't be supplied by this one directional pipeline between secondary education and professional work, so no longer will the single shot of higher education suffice. But agile and lifelong learning opportunities, where learning is essentially at the heart of an ecosystem that supports seamless transition between tertiary education providers and employment, is going to be key to us all emerging stronger from the pandemic.”
She then introduced Dr Lynn Ramsey, Programme Lead of the Multi-Campus Micro-Credentials Project (MCMCP) at the Irish Universities Association. Dr Ramsey understands the digital transformation required in HE to meet the challenges moving forwards and the pedagogy needed to transform higher education systems.
The MCMCP is a project designed to develop a national framework, across Ireland and between institutions, for micro-credentialing, something that is a first in Europe. The framework will support lifelong learning in Ireland, and is engaging with enterprise from numerous sectors to ensure the micro-credentials are recognised in the business world.
Lynn said: “This project, the Multi-Campus Micro-Credentials project, is a really ambitious project funded under the human capital initiative in Ireland, that is the money that is drawn from the National Training Fund. The product is a five-year project and at its heart it has an aim to develop an innovative system of quality assured and accredited micro-credentials across the seven founding universities.
“Our aims are fourfold, the first to develop a national framework for micro-credentials across our universities and beyond, that is a first in Europe and we are really excited to deal with European commission colleagues yesterday, they were very keen to hear what is happening in the context of the project and see it as a really trailblazing in the context of development of micro credentials.
“We aim to develop dynamic and sustainable models of enterprise engagement for micro credentials, and that really has required us to think quite differently around how we engage with the enterprise, why we are engaged with enterprise and what that looks like every stage of the journey.”
She also said that the project is entirely focused on the learner, and particularly how they engage with non-traditional learners.
“We are very learner focused in terms of what we do, we started some very interesting work in parallel with potential learners to make sure that learner engagement is at the heart of everything that we do from the very outset. That's a challenging piece when we are talking about small and agile pieces of work, working with learners who we wouldn't normally work with, it is not your traditional undergraduate population, it is not your traditional postgraduate population, it is in the other space that Kay outlined at the beginning of the session today.
“I know fundamentally that because we are working with a very different group of learners that we are working very closely with our stakeholders, it is imperative that everything we do is as implicit as possible if we are really to think about that lifelong and life-wide journey being a reality for our learners and enterprise partners.”
She also said that they are taking close notice of the changing labour market, and making sure they design the framework to cater for those wishing to reskill or re-enter work post-Covid.
“We are focusing our first phase at the changing labour market, and also looking at the post-Covid recovery and what that means. Primarily, we are looking at people in employment who wish to reskill and up-skill in an agile way. We are looking at those who want to re-enter the labour market after a period away, as well as individuals who are looking to change career.
“We are also cognizant of the fact that as we move through and develop our framework, we will have a very interesting ability then to have a framework, a good quality assurance system, an agile way of engagement, which will allow us to engage with much broader cohorts of learners.”
Concluding, Lynn said that the project is allowing them to ‘pilot cutting-edge teaching, learning and assessment’ which is extremely exciting for Irish tertiary education: “Thinking differently about the relationship between higher education and enterprise, and that changing world of work is fundamental to the work that we are doing. So there are not micro-credentials for micro-credentials' sake.
“Reskilling, up-skilling and post-Covid recovery are at the forefront of what we are doing, and the suite of micro-credentials we are developing are very exciting and innovative and highly responsive to that agenda. That green and digital transformation is permeating through lots of the work. We are partners on the European Commission’s project, and we see those agendas coming to the fore and we are keen to support that. It would be remiss of me not to say that one of the most important aspects is that it allows us to pilot cutting-edge teaching, learning and assessment, and I think learning from that across all higher education and beyond.”
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