Work Based and Placement Learning: Answers to YOUR questions!

ASET is the UK association for Work Based and Placement Learning. Since becoming a Trustee in 2016, I have very much enjoyed being able to learn more about, and engage, with the sector. Whilst most UK institutions are institutional members, we do have international members from Ireland, Canada, and other countries. Therefore ASET is a leader in the development and promotion of Good Practice within this focus area.

As BU is an institutional member, any staff member may sign up to receiving the regular newsletter and can also take advantage of the discounted rate to attend training workshops and events:

Here are a few points to the questions that were raised recently from colleagues at BU:

Are other institutions facing a reduction in resources amongst placements and careers service staff

Yes. It seems to be taking place on most campuses, therefore there is a large amount of anxiety.

How are placements assessed at other institutions? What is the best way?

This was answered best in the Student Panel session that I chaired.

Students want placement assessment:                

A. That can best support them during final year when looking for jobs. Therefore a hard or electronic portfolio of placement work, a strong LinkedIn profile with recommendations from supervisors, and/ or a personal website were the most appreciated forms of placement assessment.

B. A standard form across all academic programmes within the same Faculty. Very often students are on placement with other students from their University but as the coursework is different, there is a heightened amount of anxiety and stress. Marking it as Pass/Fail is also seen to be the best way forward as every placement experience is different.

C. Students would like to be more engaged in the process of deciding what they will be assessed on, therefore various delegates suggested referring to the Students As Partners movement.

With taking on lesser academically strong students, are other institutions finding that they need to support these students more regarding the placement process?

Yes. As this is in direct conflict with the current reduction of resources, many delegates expressed a keen desire to instigate LEAN in HE principles, or essentially stopping all activities that students did not seem to engage with in order to focus their energies on activities that would appeal to all students. An agreed initiative to implement was to use final year students more in both academic and extracurricular activities to best inspire their peers. that of Placement PALs and using final year students who have had placement experiences.

Russell Group versus post 92 institutions and their support of diversity and WP students in placement; is there a difference of what they are doing?

This wasn’t as clear. It seems as if in the current state of competition for students, the Russell Group institutions are not feeling the pressure as much as the post 92 institutions for student numbers.

How can we best prepare our students for jobs that will exist in the future?

This was a key concern amongst the delegates and discussions.

  1. Ideas included:
  2. Ensure we incorporate soft skills into the curriculum.
  3. Ensure all students have a work experience of some sort.
  4. Think outside the box, ie. Have group projects with international academic partners so that students learn about cross cultural differences whilst doing group work.
  5. Engage Industry Advisory Panels for academic courses; this link to industry will help raise awareness of upcoming trends.
  6. Ensure staff engage in sector based activities to stay aware of current challenges and trends.

Is it possible to have exclusive relationships with certain employers?

No. Whilst this was once upon a time possible, given the competition of more universities offering their students sandwich placements, companies have become more aware that they are the ones with the power of choice.

How can we ensure a standard level of quality amongst placement experiences?

It was agreed that it is near impossible for universities to ‘guarantee’ a standard level of placement experience. However, by developing relationships with our placement providers and ensuring that risk assessments are done, this

Do other institutions advertise unpaid placements? Do they offer funding?

This is completely dependent on the university; it seems to be 50% do and 50% don’t. For specific funding available for unpaid placements, or for specific groups of students such as BAME and WP students, once again, it is completely dependent on the university. Some do offer funding pots whilst others don’t.

Do other institutions experience a divide between academics and professional staff?

Yes. This was a general top issue amongst the delegates. The frustration over a lack of communication between the various parts, or a feeling that there isn’t a value placed upon placements and the work the professional staff undertake to support students. There was also a frustration that senior management passed new policies concerning placement requirements, length, etc. without talking to those doing the work. This created a sense of disempowerment amongst professional staff.

Ideas to help combat this include:

  1. Create a working group around Placements with professional staff, academics, Central team staff and institutional decision makers.
  2. Regular collaboration with academic programme heads to ensure feedback from industry can be fed into the academic programme design.

The key concern was that both academic and professional staff MUST communicate the same message, which is that placements are an important part of the academic programme and overall student experience to best prepare for their future career. Some delegates expressed disappointment in some academics openly telling their students that work experience was not important for their future.

Short versus long placements; what do other universities do? What do they think is best?

  1. ASET will be conducting research in this area in the near future which I will feed back to you.
  2. Whilst most institutions offer both short and sandwich, it was generally agreed that there is a greater impact on students, both personally and professionally, who undertake a sandwich placement.
  3. It has also been generally seen by those undertaking the placement visits that employers now prefer the sandwich placement rather than students with only 4 or 6 weeks on their CV. It was discussed that this could be a result of more students in the market for graduate jobs and this is a good way to select, in any case this has been a trend seen across the sector.

We have had quite a few students complete two years and then express that they do not want to do the sandwich placement compulsory component of the course. Has this been seen elsewhere?

This did not seem to be a widespread issue amongst the delegates.

Have other institutions noticed more of a desire from placement companies to have placement students from accredited courses?

This appears to be subject specific. Most of those delegates who did comment on this in the affirmative came from a science or engineering discipline.

Any student pet peeves that we should be aware of, particularly when thinking about the Student Experience?

Yes. Students want:

  1. A simple system to have their placement approved. Students reported that there were too many steps in the process and it seems like this is an universal issue, regardless of the system implemented on campus.
  2. One standard placement assessment – As described above.
  3. More interaction with alumni – This would help put into perspective where they would like to aim for.
  4. Universities to think of student employability from the start of first year to the end of final year, instead of getting to the second year and experiencing the sandwich placement year as a ‘bolt on’ component.
  5. Employability, placement and work based learning to be evident on campus through a visible space. Ways could be through a Wall of Fame, student stories and/or quotes on TV screens, student stories implemented into academic classes.
  6. A specific International Student Careers Advisor or someone within the School / Faculty who is their designated support staff. As they pay higher fees, the expectation is that they will receive the support they were ‘promised’.
  7. A celebration or some sort of official acknowledgement of their sandwich placement upon their return to final year. This would help confirm to them that their placement experience was valued by the university and that staff were pleased to have them back on campus again. This would enforce the sense of belonging, particularly after the year off campus.
  8. To be able to see the Placements and Careers Staff represented online or visibly on campus. Students on the panel said that it was impossible to find their designated placements office. Students want to know the background and experience of their placement support staff.

Thank you again for those who sent me questions. I do hope that you find the above feedback helpful. The conference proceedings will be published shortly on the ASET website: You can also find the Good Practice Guides, ASET Viewpoints, and other publications that you have access to as BU is an institutional member.

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