Facilitating student engagement with WIL: A risk management framework for studentships

Quality / Managing Risk | Research Grants

Full Research Grant

Anne Hewitt, University of Adelaide

Craig Cameron, Griffith University

Around the world WIL was embraced as a strategy to facilitate student transition to employment in the difficult economic circumstances flowing from the GFC. We can expect that to be replicated in the current economic turmoil caused by COVID-19. The provision of stakeholder scholarships, bursaries, grants and stipends (collectively ‘studentships’) is an important strategy to support students’ financial capacity to complete WIL. However, studentships are not without risk. This project will develop an institutional risk management framework that may guide the evaluation and design of studentships in collaboration with studentship providers (institutions, government and industry).

Themes: Sustainable, scalable and innovative WIL models

Studentships in WIL – Opportunity or Hazard?

April 2021 Update

Studentship[1] is an umbrella term we have adopted in our 2020 ACEN Research Grant project—Facilitating student engagement with WIL: a risk management framework for studentships—to describe a range of payments (stipend, bursary, scholarship, grant) to students.
Our background research has identified four key design characteristics of studentships, as they apply to WIL:

  1. Purpose: To facilitate access to WIL experiences by a particular group (e.g. low socio-economic, mature-age students, international students), to attract exceptional students to study at an institution, or to attract students to study a specific discipline;
  2. Conditions: Students may need to maintain a level of academic performance, or start employment with the host organization after WIL, or relocate to complete a WIL placement (e.g. ACEN scholarship);
  3. WIL experience: The WIL placement may vary in duration, may involve multiple placements, and may be offered by the institution, the host providing the funding or self-sourced by the student; and
  4. Financial support: which can be further classified by amount, payment method, type and source. The financial support may replicate a salary payment, represent a lump sum payment, or be payable by instalments on satisfying the conditions of the studentship. The studentship may be funded by the institution, individual donor, government, host, professional association or a combination of stakeholders in which the financial support is pooled to support a group of students.

Studentships are often intended to provide financial capacity for students to access WIL experiences, and achieve stakeholder goals in relation to WIL. For instance, studentships may enhance the reputation or ‘brand’ of institutions and stakeholders providing financial support, provide hosts with early access to student talent for future employment, improve student attraction and retention for institutions, and overall improve institution-external partner relationships.
Unfortunately, if improperly conceived and implemented, payments to students could expose WIL stakeholders to legal, operational, reputation and ethical hazards, including breach of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and other legislation. The origins of this project lies in our previous research,[2] as well as discussions with participants at ACEN workshops, which identified reticence by institutions to facilitate studentships and/or uncertainty about the current legal position of their studentships as an authorised form of payment to students. These concerns arise when the studentship is funded by a host organization. For instance, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) has a vocational placement exemption (s 12), which generally excludes WIL from the regulation of employment conditions such as wages, hours, leave and breaks, provided that the student ‘is not entitled to be paid any remuneration’. The term ‘remuneration’ arguably has a broader meaning than wages, which raises the question of whether the vocational placement exemption applies when there is a studentship being paid. If the exemption does not apply, the host may be deemed an employer and required to provide minimum employment conditions. From a reputation and ethical perspective, university lawyers have raised concerns that hosts may use studentships as a method of circumventing their obligations as an employer of the student.
The primary purpose of our project is to explore risk management of studentships in WIL programs, applying a mixed methods research design which incorporates:

  1. A web-based search for information about studentship arrangements in Australia; and
  2. Data collection from WIL practitioners, students who have received studentships, university lawyers, as well as insurance and risk personnel, about their experiences with studentships.

Our project is designed to provide new insight for stakeholders (WIL associations, institutions, partner organizations and government) about the opportunities and hazards (collectively ‘risks’) of studentships, and how these risks can be managed. This insight will be distilled into a risk management framework that can be used by stakeholders to evaluate, support and improve studentships. A subsidiary purpose is to promote greater awareness by stakeholders of studentship design, particularly the breadth of innovative studentship types that may be implemented to support the sustainability and equity of WIL programs.
We anticipate our final report will be available for public dissemination in early 2022, and welcome any feedback, questions (and even stories!) from ACEN members in the interim.

[1] In the UK, USA and New Zealand, we acknowledge that the word ‘studentship’ is associated with an institution scheme in which students provide research assistance, normally during a vacation period, and receive a payment from the institution. However, we contend that studentship is a useful umbrella term because it captures the combination of scholarship, an oft-cited type of payment which is not intended to be wages, and that the payment is made to the student.
[2] Cameron, C. (2018). The student as inadvertent employee in work-integrated learning: A risk assessment by university lawyers. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, 19(4), 337-348; Hewitt, A., Owens, R., & Stewart, A. (2018). Mind the gap: Is the regulation of work-integrated learning in higher education working? Monash University Law Review, 44(1), 234-266.