I found the report on a survey that discovered that nearly all undergraduates say work placements and careers advice are valuable, but that less than half end up using them (“Work experience: it’s a good idea”, News, 3 April), rather frustrating.
First, the report is written as if this is a new issue: it is not. Colleagues at my university, led by Lee Harvey, undertook a significant piece of research in the late 1990s, under contract with the Department for Education and Employment, which explored stakeholder perspectives on work experience in higher education. Their research, called simply Work Experience, identified that work experience at that time was of clear value to students in developing their own employability. Indeed, students themselves recognised its value as an aid to getting a job in their chosen field.
Second, the report focuses on higher education careers services rather than on the wider sector and other stakeholders. Periodically, what Baroness Blackstone once referred to as the “Cinderella service” is called on to play a central role in graduate employability, yet without the resources. The Work Experience research recommended that all key stakeholders needed to be involved in the development of suitable work experience opportunities. Employers, institutions and governments were called on to work together to provide suitable opportunities, while staff and students needed to be more aware of the value of learning that takes place outside the classroom.
Finally, the report overlooks that there is much good practice across the sector. Several institutions are making significant efforts to improve the employability of their students by developing systems that give them valuable work experience. Since employability is now recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency as being a significant quality indicator, perhaps things will finally move on.
Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences
Birmingham City University