New MA for work consultants

July 3, 1998

The successor to the work placement has arrived at Lancaster University, where postgraduates on a new arts course are offered to employers on a consultancy basis.

John Wakeford, director of Independent Studies who devised the Consultant MA, has already got big names such as Blackwells, Penguin and the BBC involved. The reason, he said, was that old forms of work placements and work experience were failing to equip students for the modern work environment.

"Work placement is a totally discredited way of learning," Professor Wakeford said. "Not only is it a passive and unstimulating experience providing insufficient challenge, it is inadequate preparation for emerging employment patterns." This was particularly true in the arts, he added, which was the fastest-growing sector of the economy.

The new MA is a three-way agreement between the student, the client or employer, who sets the problem, and an academic supervisor. The parameters of the project, the timing and the desired outcome are all set by the employer who merely pays for the project expenses.

What really sets the scheme apart from traditional work experience is that the student is placed in a completely different relationship to a real-world problem, Professor Wakeford said.

"Skills at the business end are increasingly in demand in the arts," he said. "Our consultants gain a portfolio of skills and at the same time the university forms strategic partnerships with industry and the community."

Once a consultancy project has been approved - Lancashire Literary Festival, for example, is hoping to get a student to revamp the business side of its event - an academic supervisor will oversee the project.

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