Glasgow Caledonian University has been a pioneer of workplace learning since 1992. It is committed to this in its new strategic plan, offering postgraduate courses from certificates to masters degrees through its postgraduate learning contract framework.
Colin Chisholm, dean of the faculty of science and technology and professor of workplace learning, says: "This is a new approach that puts the word teaching into the backdrop. It's about learning as opposed to being taught, and it's amazing the amount of learning going on in the workplace."
The university ferociously guards its control of quality assurance, but lets individuals negotiate a programme that is integrated into their professional work and that they can follow at their own pace. Work-based postgraduates have to set out goals for their learning, which are then credit-rated, and they put together a coherent set of modules that adds up to the equivalent of a taught programme.
George Burns, senior lecturer in engineering, says: "It's very much student-centred. They know from the outset what their objectives are and have a responsibility not just to the academic world but to the strategic objectives of their company, which is supporting them."
Students have a company mentor, normally a manager, to ensure their work follows the company's expectations, although the mentor has no influence on the academic quality arrangements.
"The economic environment demands an almost 'just-in-time' approach to knowledge acquisition. 'I need to know about it, so I'll go and learn about it'," Dr Burns says. "We can't give a 'just-in-time' degree because quality wouldn't allow it, but we're breaking new ground in taking education into the workplace and making it academically satisfactory but with recognition of the industry's specialisation."