Higher Education Governance and Policy, vol.2, no.2, pp.126-139, 2021 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)
Emergence of micro-credentials, digital qualifications less than a degree, is rooted in an increased demand for quality and digitalized higher education, and a growing demand for skilled human capital tailored for the industry. There is now a wider acceptance of micro-credentials by the industry as proof of necessary skills set developed by employees, either as a supplement or an alternative pathway to traditional college diplomas. However, within the context of higher education, an enlarging ecosystem of micro-credentials is also raising concerns over the potential of micro-credentials in career development. This phenomenological study projects an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon of micro-credentials within the context of higher education by involving experiences and interpretations of key participants- university students. Participants involved 11 junior and senior students enrolled in an advanced communication skills course focused on preparing students for their careers. Data was collected using semi-structured interviews, and they were analysed using content analysis technique and MAXQDA software. The findings show that the employability and accessibility factors enable participants to adopt micro-credentials more in their career development. Additionally, participants’ belief that the university education is being more theoretical or fragmented, and the changing mindset of the participants towards higher education after the COVID-19 pandemic also facilitate the adoption of micro-credentials in building their careers. Participants are also deterred from embracing micro-credentials in their career pathways. This is due to participants’ discontent with the dominance of data science or computer engineering fields, perceived low prestige attributed to micro-credentials, and reservations about any possible prejudice against micro-credential holders. Another finding is that participants seem to perceive micro-credentials more as a supplement to traditional university degrees rather than an alternative pathway to career development. Finally, participants frequently related their adaptive career behaviour (using micro-credentials to advance in career) to setting specific career goals and enacting them with persistence. An additional finding is that participants’ display of this adaptive career behaviour is also contingent upon the personality traits of being entrepreneurial, conscientious, and extraverted. The findings have been discussed in the light of the existing literature on micro-credentials, higher education and the career self-management model, and some implications have been provided.