You are not here to get a degree

The University of Milan Bicocca is experimenting for the first time with Open Badges for all its members to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and skills. We spoke with the Deputy Rector & Prorector for Education.
September 18, 2015

"You are not here to get a degree. In five years, this university will not have done its duty if you have a degree in your pocket. It will have done it if you have a job".

What reaction would the students have if this would be the first speech addressed to them by the rector of a university in Italy on the first day of the first year of lessons? Surely they would be affected, perhaps surprised, perhaps even shocked. Because the idea that the University is not a goal but a means, is a concept quite revolutionary for Italy.

Yet there is one organization which is building the revolution: it is the University of Milan Bicocca,which has launched a series of initiatives to transform itself from a place of knowing into a place of "know-how". It is through the tools of the placement, of the new project iBicocca and of Open Badges that Bicocca has decided to "do its duty".

Choose who to be

iBicocca is a project that revolves around three words: innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, entrepreneurship. A social profile, a web space, and a physical counter through which the students can understand the main opportunities in the University related to innovation and business and create them themselves.

The orientation and placement services are the integrated responses to the needs of training and information for students, with different instruments available upon entering, during, and upon leaving their university career: career day, business presentations, training sessions and individual counseling - to make it really possible to "choose who you want to be" professionally.

To these two pillars will be added - from September - that of the Open Badges: the Bicocca University will be the first to allow all members to use OpenBadges to certify the skills acquired, those provided by formal curriculum exams and those not covered during the curriculum but useful to get into the labor market.

We talk directly with Professor Paolo Cherubini, Deputy Rector & Prorector for Education at the University of Milan Bicocca.

Professor, why did you choose to adopt the Open Badges?

The cross- training initiatives - that is open to all students and not just to those enrolled to a specific course of study - and those "extra-curricular" - i.e. that go beyond what is required to achieve the degree - are becoming more and more numerous at Bicocca. They range from additional language and IT learning and certifications  to vocational paths like iBicocca or Bicocca Job Days, to cycles of seminars and roundtables oriented at "citizenship-building", the "serious games" to develop the skills of planning and problem solving, providing tutoring to other students, theater and music activities, volunteer training, group sports, and so on...

The opportunities for extracurricular cross-training broaden cultural horizons and the experiences of  future graduates, enabling them to boost those "soft skills" that give the edge in finding or create a job. 

However, today the formal framework of degree programs is rather strict: only a limited number of extra-curricular activities are recognizable by the classic "academic credits". We believed to identify in the Open Badge a flexible and innovative tool that can allow our students to be recognized and certified for all or many of the extracurricular activities they will undertake (and - why not? - even some curriculum activities).

This is why we asked for a further refinement of the Badge: the skills certified by a Bicocca Badge, as well as being expendable on social networks and electronic CVs, will be directly reported in the European Diploma Supplement of our graduates, thus becoming part of the full Degree.

What are the benefits for the students and what was the feedback to the presentation of the project?  

In addition to the recognition and certification of skills and knowledge gained from extracurricular activities, making use of the Open Badges can increase student’s visibility and their web reputation. On those social networks which are important for entering into the world of work, - as Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook - one will no longer have to "self-certify" all they have done and can do thanks to their extra-curricular activities:  Bicocca University itself will certify these same goals. And - symmetrically - these activities and this "extra” learning will finally and officially be in their Diploma Supplement. 

I noticed in the student representatives in the Student Council, Senate, and Board of Directors a great enthusiasm for the proposal, which was unanimously approved. It is above all this enthusiasm, given that students are much more tuned in than we are in the reality of the network, which convinced me that this was a good way forward. 

The Open Badges are a tool to open new partnerships with the business community, helping students to be get in touch with companies, and universities in conducting their own training in the sought-after skills in the workplace. What do you believe will be the impact?

In the medium term we would like to achieve, in cooperation with companies and local institutions, an accessible catalog of training for so-called "continuing education", that does not necessarily fall into rigid formats of degree programs, courses, or masters programs.

A company needs a short course on the characteristics of a new material, a municipality needs a few hours of study of statistical themes for some of its employees, a government needs seminars on aspects of the new law, etc ... contacting: Bicocca..

We will mobilize a team of experienced internal and external teachers, organize  with the clients  the subject and method of delivery, and finally - passing a final test - we will issue an Open Badge which will certify the work performed and the learning achieved. When we get to that, we will really have a tool to provide “custom” advanced training.  Meanwhile, we will encourage our stakeholders in the area to officially affirm, through their endorsement of our Badge, their satisfaction with the quality level of the Bicocca graduates employed by them

In Europe and the USA the Open Badges are very popular. In Italy you are the first University to test their use for all members. Are we, as a country, technologically stubborn? What do we need to increase the propensity for innovation in our education system?

We are not a technologically stubborn country: the problem is the difficulty that exists in the proposal, approval and launch of new initiatives, modern, tailored to the world of work.

And yet, where we succeeded, despite great difficulties, we have been successful: Bicocca in Italy is second among public universities for degree of employability of its graduates. The Italian public opinion and governments should understand that the Public University is the key to development, labor, and the future.