In arguing for more attention to be given to graduate employability, Ruth Helyer notes that “sandwich programmes…fell out of favour” (“Welcome to the real world – of work”, News, 25 September). If progress is to be made, it is important to consider why this happened.
Although now retired, I was heavily involved in arranging and supervising placements for students on public administration and business studies degrees. I would suggest that there are at least three reasons for the demise of sandwich education. First, with the end of the binary divide and the conversion of polytechnics into universities, this form of higher education lost its principal champions. Second, four-year sandwich degrees were far more costly to provide than standard three-year degrees. Moreover, the issue of establishing a robust and equitable system for funding placements was never resolved. Last, curriculum designers underestimated the challenges involved in finding effective ways to integrate the work experience and academic components of degree courses.
These represent considerable hurdles that need to be overcome before there can be a renaissance of sandwich education.
Former polytechnic lecturer
I agree with Ruth Helyer that undergraduates should be able to “experience real work during their degree” and that work placements integral to a degree are a good way to achieve this.
Luckily, at least some institutions introduced built-in work placements some time ago. When I worked at Newman University (then a college of higher education) from the 1990s, all undergraduates had a term’s work placement in their second year. Work placements are still integral to study at Newman, which is in the top 20 for UK graduate employment, according to its website. Similarly, Leeds Trinity University, where I also worked, has a tradition of work placements across the undergraduate curriculum and today boasts a 94 per cent graduate employment rate.
In both institutions, the practice and approach of teacher education - where study and placements are equally valued parts of education – was the paradigm that informed this model. I would echo Sir Tim Wilson in the conclusion of his Review of Business University Collaboration (2012) that work placements had an “extremely valuable” positive impact on graduate employability skills and academic performance. In my experience, work placement was the making of many a student.
Director, Capplestone Gate Consulting