Fitting work-integrated learning around other commitments can be difficult for students. Students in our focus groups valued opportunities to gain experience and learn in the workplace, especially through placements or internships. However, they also emphasised things they would have to give up to accommodate those opportunities, such as paid work or other study.
It is now the norm for students to do paid work in addition to study, and national data has shown that contemporary students spend less time in private study and more hours in paid work than their predecessors (James et al., 2010). They are also more likely to be juggling family or carer commitments.
I was struck by how much some students were prepared to give up, for example:
I think I would be willing to stop working because I still do manage to get Centrelink because I’m studying. I could get by because I am living with my partner, with his family, and my cost of living is all right at the moment. So I think if it was a workplace that actually got me networking and job opportunities, I would be willing to do that if it benefited me in the future.
The amount that students were prepared to give up to gain experience and skills through WIL was encouraging, but their concerns highlight the importance of reasonable expectations. All students should have opportunities to engage in WIL, but it must not be an unreasonable burden – and we need to remember that the cost is not equal for all students.
With this in mind, I have three suggestions for consideration when providing WIL opportunities:
- Maximise flexibility and provide alternatives – as much as possible help students to fit WIL around their other commitments. This might involve helping students to fit work-integrated learning situated in the workplace around work or study commitments, helping them to negotiate hours that accommodate carer roles, finding local opportunities that require less travel, or providing WIL opportunities on-campus or even online when students are unable to engage in off-campus learning. You can find tips for making WIL accessible in the WIL Guide for Science.
- Offer credit – many of the students we spoke to were prepared to engage in placements and internships even if they were not for credit because they so highly valued the exposure to experience and networks. However, providing all students with opportunities to enrol in WIL units for some credit, will help students to fit some WIL into their course and their lives.
- Make it meaningful – given that students must forgo work, study and other opportunities to participate in WIL, it is imperative that the experiences they have are worthwhile. WIL should provide students with engaging learning opportunities that relate to their interests or developmental needs. Again, you will find more information about making WIL meaningful in the WIL Guide for Science.
Reference: James, R., Krause, K.-L. & Jennings, C. 2010. The first year experience in Australian Universities: Findings from 1994 to 2010. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne.