WIL Leadership Vignette 06:
Prof Elizabeth Deane
The quality and relevance of University education and the employability of graduates is an issue of both national and international importance. Government and community expectations of post-graduation success are evident in initiatives such as national Graduate Destination Surveys, My University web sites and in surveys of graduate starting salaries and areas of employment relevant to degree. This focus on quality and relevance is also apparent in regulatory and registration frameworks of professional associations, often aligned with international benchmarking as is in place in Engineering and in the establishment of governmental regulatory agencies, such as the Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).
Work Integrated Learning and its many siblings - professional and community placements, internships, summer research programs - to name a few, all spring from the a suite of similar underlying ambitions. These ambitions are owned by multiple stakeholders - in industry and Universities; in local communities as well as families and students themselves. There is an overarching ambition to deliver graduates who have experience and understanding of their future possible employment options; to facilitate employer opportunity to have exposure to potential employees and provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities; to build relationships with community and with industry and to allow the institution to demonstrate the quality and relevance of their students. At another level degree relevant workplace exposure and experience can provide a pathway for disadvantaged students who may lack the familial and community connections to aid their transit to the workplace.
Underlying these broadly scoped ambitions, is the recasting of curriculum and the changing understandings and expectations of academic staff and institutions. In the early days of WIL, it was not unknown to hear from academic discipline staff that that such activities would rob precious time needed to cover the vast amount of content knowledge essential in a competent graduate. Many early initiatives were "extra curricular" an add-on to a full on campus academic program. Many still are. But the burgeoning of WIL and its relatives has largely been supported by mainstreaming of professional work into curriculum and acceptance that valuable, relevant curriculum and learning can take place within a structured work experience.
The popularity and growth of WIL has also served to build connections with industry and community in areas outside what could be seen as necessary collaborations to deliver employable, competent graduates to the professions. WIL is thus serving another government ambition - to bring universities and industries into closer collaboration, particularly in building research capability and industry-relevant outcomes.
With all these benefits, WIL should be viewed as a vital component of the learning experience at any modern university. UWS offers a case in point, with its current mix of school-based and centrally supported offerings, which had their genesis in the early 90s. WIL, and relatives, are an international phenomena. As international educational structures and qualifications frameworks, increasingly align and graduate mobility demands more curriculum commonality, it is reasonable to assume WIL will be continue to be an increasing feature of Higher Education programs.
Professor Elizabeth Deane is Professor Strategic Initiatives (Learning and Teaching) and interim Head, Learning and Teaching Unit. Her portfolio responsibilities include providing leadership in the areas of student learning support; teaching skills development and on-line and blended approaches to education.