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As a new year dawns and new year’s resolutions come new aspirations to progress. Here at the University of Chester, in our Centre for Professional & Economic Development, we have a rich history of helping learners of all ages and backgrounds to progress in their careers. Key to this is engaging with business and the community in positive ways. This includes Work Based Learning (WBL) placement modules for undergraduates and professional development programmes for adult learners in the workplace via our Work Based & Integrative Studies (WBIS) framework. It’s fair to say that we have excelled in industry collaborations for research informed teaching and two-way knowledge exchange in these areas. Consistent results and success of our learners are testament to our ongoing commitment. This is against a backdrop of a challenging time for the UK economy and a period of change for Higher Education and society.

It has never been more important then, to keep our fingers on the pulse and use a research and data informed approach to understand what is important to our prospective and current students and alumni. This article gives a snippet of some of the interesting findings that we’ve discovered so far and outlines the opportunity for you.

Firstly, our market research department highlighted the number of applications for programmes with WBL aspects in the programme title from 2017. Applications for programmes with ‘Work placement/Professional placement/Integrated placement’ in the title grew by 125% over the period 2017-2021.  These programmes had the highest number of applications in 2021, over 75,000, followed by ‘Year in Industry’ with 22,665 applications. For comparison, all applications for all courses grew by 3.2% over the five-year period and by 3.3% over the period 2020-2021.  Whilst the rate of application growth for ‘Work Placements’ and ‘Year in Industry’ outgrew sector applications over the five-year period, over the period 2020-2021 the rate of growth was marginally lower for these two types of programmes.

What this tells us is that WBL and placement learning have never been more important to our students and those of the future. The University of Chester offers more Work Based Leaning in its course descriptions than any other University in the North-West of England. Again, this relates to our rich history in this area and our incredible WBL modules which attract thousands of students across the University each year to undertake placements as part of their studies.

We recently conducted a survey at our open day, which was completed by 508 students. The results were incredibly inciteful and further highlighted value of work based and placement learning to our students. We intend to publish in full the results of our research in the coming months, but quick insights demonstrated that 82% of the 508 students strongly agreed (47%) or agreed (35%) that WBL should be included in University courses.

Furthermore, when we asked students to rank the importance of choosing University, the availability of placements, rankings and WBL as part of the course came out as the top 3 factors:

This is really encouraging to see that our strengths in WBL and industry engagement of such great value to students and prospective students. The student and employer satisfaction rates of our modules are excellent, so all considered, this makes University of Chester a great choice for anyone interested in gaining academic credit for these opportunities alongside their degree and boosting their career.

This point leads us nicely back to our flexible options for professionals in the workplace. Since the late 1990s we have operated a flexible work based learning framework designed leverage our expertise in WBL to those in employment and who are often mature learners.

The name for this framework is Work Based & Integrative Studies: ‘Work based’ because it was designed to help people learn effectively through their working practice and gain academic reward for this. ‘Integrative Studies’ because it would also allow learners at work, wherever feasible, to choose relevant taught provision that could help them in their professional life (whether, for instance, it be taught input in business, IT or stress management).

The essential idea behind WBIS was always that of helping the University capture, enhance and reward professional learning. Within this remit, the framework that was created ensured there is much scope for flexibility. Over the last two decades and more, this flexibility has enabled WBIS to be used for a variety of purposes, which include:

  • Allowing individual learners to negotiate their own, bespoke, learning programme related to their professional role;
  • Configuring corporate programmes for organisations with particular professional development needs (including higher level apprenticeships);
  • Assessing and accrediting the vocational learning fostered by others – such as Human Resource Departments or training organisations – thereby working in partnership (‘co-delivery’) to enhance workplace learning and offer academic reward for this.

The framework currently has around 1,000 students across the public and private sectors and includes both undergraduate and postgraduate students. In a recent survey of our WBIS students over 80% said that they would not have considered being in higher education currently if it wasn’t for WBIS as a means of helping busy professionals gain academic development and reward. In addition, over 72% were able to identify that studying on WBIS had led to specific, positive business impacts.

This means that through our work based approach, we are able to facilitate experiential learning that can enhance career development for both full-time students and mature learners in the workplace, in both instances helping organisations create positive real-world impact. This fits neatly with our University Mission whereby we seek to provide all our students ‘with the education, skills, support and motivation to enable them to develop as confident world citizens and successfully to serve and improve the global communities within which they live and work’.

If you would like to find out more about our approach or to boost your career, please contact us:

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