Over the past few years, universities have increased support to employers so they can involve students in their organisation. Employers are also increasing and strengthening their links with universities through work placements and project work, which demonstrates that they are recognising the many benefits of WIL.

One of the ways that partnerships between universities and employers have been strengthened is through the development of the 2015 National Strategy on Work Integrated Learning in University Education. Universities Australia, the Australian Collaborative Education Network, AiGroup, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia, the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training and the Office of the Chief Scientist partnered on this Strategy to facilitate deeper connections between universities and employers and to promote the benefits of WIL for all stakeholders.

One of the strategy’s actions is to develop a national profile of current WIL activity in the higher education sector, measuring the level of participation in WIL by students enrolled in Australia’s universities. In 2018, Universities Australia (UA) undertook a national survey of the WIL activities that occurred in 2017 across Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities. The survey is the first data collection of its kind, and the survey results provide the higher education sector with a baseline from which to measure progress. The results clearly demonstrate the extent and diversity of WIL activities across the higher education sector and reflect the commitment of universities to improving graduate employability.

Some figures from the survey

In 2017, 451,263 students had a WIL experience. This equates to one in three university students enrolled in Australia in 2017. Of the total number of students who undertook a WIL experience in 2017, 104,140 had more than one WIL experience during the year. This made a total of 555,403 WIL activities in 2017.

The most common type of WIL in universities was a placement, accounting for 43 per cent of the total WIL activity in 2017. This can be partially explained by placements that are integrated into specific degree programs because they are mandatory for registration in professions such as teaching, medicine and nursing.

Although a work placement is the most common type of WIL activity, universities are moving beyond this historical approach to WIL to offer opportunities such as projects, simulations and fieldwork amounting to 11.2 per cent of the total WIL activities undertaken by university students in 2017.

Despite the assumption that participation in WIL is restricted to undergraduate students, students from across all levels of learning at university were actively engaged in WIL activities.

The diversity in types of WIL activity reflects the considerable range of relationships between universities and employers. Institutions are partnering with organisations – both domestically and internationally – in a multitude of ways to ensure that the WIL experiences offered to students are dynamic, meaningful and opportune.