by DENISE JACKSON and ANNA ROWE

A national study of more than 50,000 graduates shows that student participation in work-integrated learning (WIL) increases their chances of obtaining graduate-level jobs. WIL comes in different forms but is, essentially, where university students engage with industry or community partners as part of their formal learning.

Last year, ACEN (Australian Collaborative Education Network, peak national body for WIL) introduced some questions into Australia’s national Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) to gauge student participation in different types of WIL, and how this might impact on labour force outcomes.

Work-based WIL (internships, practicums, placements) is well-known but increasingly universities are looking at other ways to connect students with stakeholders. These often take place outside the workplace, e.g. virtually or on-campus. Key examples include consultancy, client-based projects, and enterprise incubators.

ACEN found that undergraduates who participate in WIL are more likely to gain employment after their degree compared to those who do not participate in WIL. WIL may also reduce the chances of a student feeling overqualified post-graduation. Over-qualification is a concern for new Australian graduates with increasing numbers working in jobs that do not use the skills learnt in their degree.

ACEN investigated other activities that might help students get jobs after university. Some “out-of-curriculum” activities were quite effective, such as industry mentoring and leadership/award programmes. Others did not seem to lead to employment, particularly graduate-level jobs. A summary of key findings can be accessed freely in ACEN’s full report and webinar.

To clarify, this ACEN study examined the link between WIL (and co-curricular activities) and new graduates’ performance in the labour market (salary, full-time employment, graduate-level employment), not aspects of student employability.

ACEN recognises the pitfalls of using GOS data to gauge graduates’ performance in the labour market. Rightly or wrongly, universities are focused on graduate employment outcomes and, with institutional funding increasingly being linked to industry engagement, that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The GOS and ACEN’s data may assist educators in directing their resources to WIL, and other activities, to optimise graduate outcomes.

All ACEN institutional members can opt-in (free of charge) to include the WIL/co-curricular activity items in their GOS. Please contact ACEN for further information.

Professor Denise Jackson (ACEN National Director), Director of WIL – School of Business and Law, Edith Cowan University, d.jackson@ecu.edu.au.

Dr Anna Rowe, Senior Lecturer (past ACEN National Director)– Academic Development, University of New South Wales, a.rowe@unsw.edu.au


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