Continuing to build on Microcredentials in higher education and research universities

Microcredentials have already been introduced in higher education and research universities. Since October 2021, 34 higher education institutions – including 12 universities and 22 colleges – have participated in the national Pilot Microcredentials in Higher Education. This pilot was an initiative of the Education Flexibilisation from the Acceleration Plan (which later became Npuls), the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands. The pilot will conclude at the end of 2023. What’s next?

Pilot Microcredentials will continue
The pilot has been successful: within the participating institutions, we are seeing an increasing number of initiatives around microcredentials. The national knowledge sharing and approach of the pilot are valued by the participating institutions. Internationally, we are also witnessing growth around microcredentials. Both the European Commission and educational institutions are placing increasing value on microcredentials, seeing them as an important tool for retraining and upskilling. Therefore, the education sector will continue pilots around microcredentials in higher education and research universities within Npuls.

Continuing to build on Microcredentials

In the next phase, we will continue to build on microcredentials in higher education and research universities, in collaboration with the starting pilot in vocational education and training (VET). The goal of this phase remains the same: to familiarize with and share knowledge about microcredentials, and to implement them in education. This includes more in-depth exploration of integrating microcredentials within institutions, and close collaboration with the Lifelong Learning Catalyst (Growth Fund program through which educational institutions from VET, colleges, and universities give a strong impetus to lifelong learning).

Institutions that already participated in the Acceleration Plan pilot do not need to reapply; administrators and stakeholders of these institutions will be informed about this continuation by letter.

If you have questions about microcredentials in higher education or research universities, please contact:

What are microcredentials? Why microcredentials? The quality framework

A digital certificate for an independently completed educational unit ranging from 3 – 30 ECTS with an accreditation-worthy level, quality mark, and recognized value for professional target groups.

The microcredential is a reliable certificate that allows professionals to demonstrate what they know, can do, and understand after successfully completing an educational unit. In other words, a microcredential independently validates a smaller educational unit (in the pilot, ranging between 3 and 30 ECTS). It stands for accreditation-worthy education and adds a quality mark: the (paying) participant/employer can trust that the course is designed to achieve learning outcomes. The achievement of these learning outcomes is traceable and verifiable. However, a microcredential is not just about the end result. The entire process, including learning activities and associated assessment of learning outcomes, adds value to a microcredential, which is recognized within and outside educational institutions. Additionally, there will be a national registration of who has obtained which microcredential.

Microcredentials in higher education can be valuable in various ways for institutions, professionals, and employers.


Many institutions have worked in recent years to develop a relevant and interesting educational offering for professionals. Microcredentials offer institutions the opportunity to broaden their educational offerings and support individuals and society in (flexible) professionalization. By better addressing professionals, Lifelong Learning (LLO) can be boosted.


Professionals often need specific retraining, upskilling, or reskilling. Not necessarily a complete degree program, but they do seek the recognized quality value of one. The size and value of microcredentials make it attractive for professionals to specialize, upskill, or reskill in higher education. They can also be developed more quickly and are better suited to meet the rapidly changing work context and learning needs of professionals. Additionally, professionals can design a development path across different courses and institutions, as the microcredential ensures that achieved learning outcomes are recognized elsewhere. This also creates opportunities to build on previously acquired knowledge, skills, and attitudes.


The microcredential adds a quality mark to shorter educational units, ensuring that the (paying) participant/employer can trust that the course is designed to achieve actual learning outcomes and that the education is of an accreditation-worthy level. The microcredential makes the achievement of learning outcomes traceable and verifiable, as there will be a national registration of who has obtained which microcredential.

In recent years, a high-quality system of quality assurance has developed in Dutch higher education. Institutions each give their own color to this. This uniqueness and diversity can be seen as a strength of the system but can also lead to discussion among them when seeking uniformity. Therefore, a quality framework has been chosen within which institutions enjoy as much (content) freedom as possible. The pilot gives room for institutions to start with this framework as a starting point and to jointly refine and further fill it in.

What do we ask for minimum in (internal) quality assurance?

  1. The quality of the education certified with microcredentials is safeguarded based on the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) (Standaarden en richtlijnen voor kwaliteitszorg in de Europese hogeronderwijsruimte)
  2. The Executive Board is aware of and consciously chooses to offer microcredentials from the LLO vision of the institution.
  3. The institution has set up an internal quality assurance process for the design, recognition, and quality assurance of the microcredentials.
  4. The institution has appointed a body or multiple bodies that can guarantee the final level of microcredential-certified education.
  5. A form of educational evaluation, participation, and the possibility to submit complaints has been organized for participants of mc-certified education.

What conditions are there for participating institutions in education?

  1. The guideline for microcredentials is that they are educational units no smaller than 3 ECTS and no larger than 30 ECTS.
  2. The education certified with a microcredential is content-related to the education and/or research portfolio of the institution. This can be both existing and newly (further) developed education.
  3. It is clear who the intended target group of the education is, if necessary what the required prior knowledge of the participants is, what the possible admission conditions are, and how these are tested.
  4. The educational program, the learning environment, and the quality of the teaching team make it possible for incoming participants to achieve the intended learning outcomes.
  5. It is made transparent what the learning outcomes are and what the educational level and scope of the microcredential are. The participating institutions describe this in a uniform way, in line with European agreements (Bologna) and developments in Brussels. On this point, the boards of the umbrella organizations VH and UNL have adopted an addition. You can find this addition to the quality framework here.
  6. Institutions in principle recognize the (validated) learning outcomes of microcredentials already obtained and/or obtained elsewhere (see point 5 in Q&A). Whether this leads to entry and/or exemption remains under the mandate of the Examination Board or another body appointed by the institution for this purpose.
  7. The assessments support the participant’s learning process, and the assessment is valid, reliable, transparent for participants, and sufficiently independent.

How do we proceed with continuing to build on microcredentials?

Why a follow-up to the microcredentials pilot?

The microcredential is a relatively new concept in the world of education, highly valued both internationally (within and outside the EU) and in the Netherlands. The European Commission views it as an important tool in retraining and upskilling the workforce of the future and advises member states to ensure national implementation along its guidelines in the coming period.

Developments within the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW)

In the future exploration commissioned by OCW, microcredentials are repeatedly mentioned as an important part of the future educational landscape. OCW is currently forming a working group with various stakeholders to further explore this theme and its significance within the Dutch system, following the European Council’s recommendation.

Over the past years, as Dutch higher education institutions (34 HE institutions participated), we have collectively gained experience with microcredentials in the national pilot, initiated from the Acceleration Plan and now under Npuls.

Together, we established a quality framework for microcredentials, serving as the basis for mutual recognition of microcredentials. In learning communities, groups of professionals from participating institutions worked together on various aspects of issuing microcredentials. We also organized peer reviews for an external perspective to ensure the agreements from the quality framework.

The pilot has been successful: within the participating institutions, we see more and more initiatives emerging around microcredentials. The national knowledge sharing and approach of the pilot are valued by the institutions and they wish to see it continued.

In the still-developing landscape of microcredentials in the Netherlands, it is essential to continue working together to solve common issues, support the positive movement within institutions nationally, and collectively uphold the agreements from the pilot’s quality framework.

We also want to explicitly offer the opportunity for institutions not yet connected to join the knowledge sharing that takes place within the pilot.

What does the follow-up of the pilot look like? What is nationally facilitated?

In the continuation of the pilot, we would like to continue our collaboration and keep facilitating elements that are valued within the pilot at a national level. The quality framework established by the pilot’s board remains the starting point, which will be reaffirmed this autumn by the boards of the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands. The peer reviews between institutions will continue as a form of external quality assurance, and we will develop this further with the institutions.

Together, we are eager to continue working on challenges we see together, such as further shaping mutual recognition of these certificates, national awareness of microcredentials, and developing the range of offerings within the institutions.

Therefore, we will continue to facilitate knowledge sharing between institutions. This includes national meetings at project leader level, a national online collaboration environment, and facilitating knowledge sharing between involved professionals in learning communities. Additionally, we continue to provide the high-quality digital infrastructure of the Edubadges service from SURF to issue recognizable microcredentials. We also seek alignment with developments in the field of wallets (including the European DC4EU) that should enable citizens to easily store and share their microcredentials. Furthermore, we are working with the communication team of Npuls to increase national awareness of microcredentials.

We regularly check whether the national approach still meets the needs of the institutions or whether new initiatives from the pilot are desirable.

What is the scope of phase 2 – continuing to build on microcredentials?

Initially, this second phase continues with the same scope as the first pilot phase: namely professionals and not initial students (students in the sense of the law). The pilot maintains contact with the working group formed by OCW on this topic through the sector associations, where the question of a possible broadening of this scope will be considered.

In this second phase, where scaling up and anchoring within the institutions are central, we strive for the following goals:

  1. Refine, consolidate, and safeguard the necessary frameworks and agreements for microcredentials within the institutions. Connect these frameworks and agreements with the agreement system within VET, with the aim of achieving civil effect in the market.
  2. Enrich the educational offering by offering an increasing number of microcredentials from all participating institutions with an independent value, possibly in collaboration/coherence with initiatives from the LLO catalyst;
  3. Streamline procedures around offering, registering, and issuing microcredentials;
  4. Continuously organize and improve the (internal) quality assurance of institutions that fits with flexible LLO offerings and organize an external perspective on quality assurance by facilitating peer reviews between institutions;
  5. Contribute through sector organizations to the (legal) issues that OCW needs to answer before legal anchoring and implementation in the system can follow, in line with the recommendation of the European Commission.

The aim is for all institutions within higher education to benefit from the knowledge sharing by participating in this second phase.

How long will this second phase last?

Continuing to Build on Microcredentials follows the preceding pilot microcredentials in higher education and starts on January 1st, ’24. We will continue until a clearer picture emerges of the legal anchoring and implementation of microcredentials in the educational system, with the internal anchoring of microcredentials within the Higher Education institutions in the Netherlands.

This second phase will last at least as long as phase 1 of Npuls – namely until July 1st, ‘2025. It is expected that during this period, the work of the OCW working group on this topic will provide a clearer picture; if this is not the case, we will ensure that we continue to work together nationally around this theme.

What is expected of participating institutions?

  • Commitment to the scope and adherence to the agreements in the quality framework;
  • Active participation and knowledge sharing with other institutions;
  • Appointing a project leader or point of contact within the institution;
  • Working within the institution towards the consolidation of the necessary organization around microcredentials in the existing organization of the institution;
  • Connecting to the Edubadges service, so the institution can issue microcredentials;
  • Actually issuing microcredentials within the first year of participation.

How does the registration process for continuing to build on microcredentials work?

  • For institutions that did not participate in phase 1 of the microcredentials pilot, registration is done via a member of the Executive Board. Institutions can register by email, no later than December 17th, ’24, via Institutions are asked to also make the name of the contact person within the institution known in this email.
  • The board of the 34 institutions that previously participated in the microcredentials pilot will be informed by letter of this continuation and continued national facilitation. Re-registration is not necessary for these institutions, but institutions can opt out of the continuation if they do not wish to use the national knowledge sharing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should institutions offer all Lifelong Learning (LLO) in the form of microcredentials?

No, the offerings for the LLO market can naturally be much broader and encompass more forms. There can be very different reasons to offer various forms and contents; for example, a short seminar on group dynamics might be sufficient for someone with a less profound learning question. However, it is only courses that meet the quality requirements of a microcredential that lead to a recognized certificate with identifiable value.

What is the current status of microcredentials?

The concept of microcredentials is increasingly gaining interest, but it has not yet been included in the WHW (Higher Education and Research Act) and therefore does not yet have a legally recognized status. In our current system, based on the WHW, we only recognize legally accredited diplomas. The microcredentials issued during the pilot’s duration thus do not have legal assurance. However, the possibility of an addition to the law is being explored by OCW.

Since the entire Higher Education in the Netherlands, through the sector associations VH and UNL, has committed to the pilot and the current quality framework, microcredentials issued within the pilot have national recognition and acceptance. In the design of the (digital) certification, we will explicitly mention this national framework.

A subsequent question is whether a microcredential may offer possibilities for entry or exemption. This is a subject that falls within the mandate of the examination committee of the institution where entry or exemption is requested.

What does it mean in practice to recognize each other’s microcredentials and learning outcomes?

The goal of the pilot is to work institution-wide on a system in which microcredentials have a recognizable and identifiable value. By working together and operating from a shared language and a joint quality framework, the microcredentials gain an independent value.

Learning outcomes describe what a learner is expected to know, be able to do, and understand. It is important to note that learning outcomes are “about the outcomes of the learning process, regardless of the educational content and curriculum, the study load and burden, the duration of study, the organization of education, the method of instruction, and where and how the education is provided” (Van Delft, 2020, p. 2). In other words, a learning outcome describes what someone knows and can do after successfully completing a learning trajectory.

This also means that learning outcomes achieved in a program certified with microcredentials at one institution are also recognized as such at the same institution or by another institution. With a microcredential, for example, a participant can demonstrate that the required prior knowledge is present when entering a program or another microcredential. Also, learning outcomes that overlap with an accredited program may lead to exemptions when enrolling in the program. Exemptions are not automatically granted but must be applied for at a designated body of the institution, typically an examination committee.

What is the relationship between ‘Continuing to build on microcredentials’ and the ‘Learning outcomes experiment’?

Learning outcomes describe what a learner is supposed to know, understand, and be able to apply after completing a learning period (see NVAO and Tuning). Within ‘Continuing to Build on Microcredentials’, we explore how we can describe learning outcomes as simply as possible, in line with the principles of the NVAO.

‘Continuing to Build on Microcredentials’ is an initiative from Npuls. We take the lessons and insights learned during the ‘Learning Outcomes Experiment’ into ‘Continuing to Build on Microcredentials’ and build on them where possible. We also seek alignment with the pilot in European and national developments (think of the legal anchoring of the learning outcomes experiment) regarding working with learning outcomes.

How are microcredentials registered?

Within the pilot, microcredentials are issued via the edubadges service of SURF. In the long term, it makes sense to position a national register for microcredentials alongside the existing diploma register at DUO. DUO has already conducted an exploration in the past, which leads to further steps.

How do microcredentials relate to Edubadges?

All digital certificates issued within the Edubadges service are also called edubadges. A microcredential issued as part of the pilot and through the service is thus a special form of an Edubadge, meeting the quality framework of the pilot. We ensure, together with the service, that microcredentials issued as part of the pilot are recognizable and filterable within the service. And that the quality framework of the pilot is also visibly connected to the microcredentials, so that this is clear to everyone.

What is on the certificate of a Microcredential?

Microcredentials issued within the pilot are recognizably issued within the edubadges service and are identifiable by the quality mark (add visual of the mark) and the attached quality framework of the pilot. Within the service’s catalog, these microcredentials can also be found using a filter function. The following information can be found on the certificate:

  • Participant’s name
  • Institution’s name
  • Name of the educational unit
  • Level indication based on NLQF
  • Indication of scope based on ECTS
  • Acquired learning outcomes
  • Achieved result

How does ‘Continuing to build on microcredentials’ align with European developments, such as the recommendation of the European Commission and the MICROBOL Project?

At the European level, work is being done on the uniformity and implementation of microcredentials, as evidenced by the recommendation on microcredentials issued by the Council of the European Union to all member states. ‘Continuing to Build on Microcredentials’ closely follows European developments. For example, it can contribute to recognizing each other’s education within the network of European universities. Several Dutch universities are already collaborating with other European universities in this regard. Developments in Europe, such as the Council’s recommendation and the MICROBOL project, will be incorporated into ‘Continuing to build on Microcredentials’.

How does ‘Continuing to build on microcredentials’ relate to developments at DUO and RIO?

Within the pilot, microcredentials are issued via the edubadges service of SURF. In the long term, it makes sense to position a national register for microcredentials alongside the existing diploma register at DUO. DUO has already conducted an exploration in the past, which leads to further steps.

RIO stands for Registration of Institutions and Education. It is a national register in which educational institutions record educational offerings, organizational forms, and educational recognitions and licenses. The purpose of RIO is to have all educational information in one place. The information model of RIO is already prepared for the arrival of microcredentials. During ‘Continuing to Build on Microcredentials’, we try to connect with the opportunities that RIO offers us.

Do you have any questions?

Do you have any questions about microcredentials in higher education and research universities? Contact: