By DAVID MYTON
Work Integrated Learning (WIL), designed to integrate the academic theory students learn at university with practical on-the-job experience, has become well established in Australian higher education in recent years.
Today, many universities offer WIL placements as a structured part of the curriculum, as thousands of employers partner with universities to provide students with work placements, internships, and shadowing programs under the umbrella of the National Work Integrated Learning Strategy.
But now a new report has revealed that some students engaged in WIL are experiencing “multiple and connected stresses”.
These stresses, say the report’s authors, result from “a combination of the intensive unpaid nature of WIL placements, the additional costs incurred as a result of the placement, relational stressors and the financial impacts of lost wages”.
The report, WIL Wellbeing: Exploring the Impacts of Unpaid Practicum on Student Wellbeing, is authored by Queensland University of Technology’s Deanna Grant-Smith and Jenna Gillett-Swan, and supported by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.
‘Significant role conflict’
The authors say their research shows that many WIL participants – particularly those with paid employment and/or caring responsibilities – experience “significant role conflict” as a result of WIL participation and are faced with “additional challenges and complexities”.
Regardless of their family or employment circumstances, many WIL participants indicated they required additional financial assistance and support, they write.
The authors say that both WIL administrators and student participants concluded that better training, support and vetting of potential WIL workplaces and supervisors is required.
“In addition to more supportive supervisory relationships within the WIL workplace, WIL participants are seeking greater levels of pastoral care, staff support and empathy from universities.”
Key findings from the research were:
- WIL participants experience multiple and connected stress as a result of undertaking a WIL placement. This stress is due to a combination of the intensive unpaid nature of WIL placements, the additional costs incurred as a result of the placement, and the financial impacts of lost wages. “A concerning number of WIL participants forgo necessities, including food, when undertaking WIL due to financial reasons.”
- WIL workplaces need better preparation and support to positively contribute to participant wellbeing and learning outcomes. Better training, support and vetting of potential WIL workplaces and supervisors is required.
- Greater levels of institutional and community support are required to support WIL participant wellbeing. In addition to more supportive supervisory relationships within the WIL workplace, WIL participants are seeking greater levels of pastoral care, staff support and empathy from universities.
The authors add: “Combined, peer, family, community and university support make an important contribution to a successful WIL experience, however, available institutional support and eligibility requirements need to be better communicated to students.”
Read the report in full: Grant-Smith D & Gillett-Swan J (2017) WIL Wellbeing: Exploring the Impacts of Unpaid Practicum on Student Wellbeing. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.