For Australia to compete in the global economy, our university graduates need to be career-ready. This means they need to be flexible, adaptive and able to apply their technical skills to real-world situations. To support the acquisition of these skills, universities offer a broad range of opportunities for students to engage with the workforce while they undertake their degree.
Work integrated learning – or WIL – is an umbrella term that refers to a range of practical experiences designed to give students valuable exposure to work-related activities relevant to their course of study. To produce the highly skilled workforce that the community and industry needs, universities and employers partner to offer students internships, projects, simulations, fieldwork and other activities.
Over the past few years, universities have increased support to employers so they can involve students in their organisation. Employers are also increasing and strengthening their links with universities through work placements and project work, which demonstrates that they are recognising the many benefits of WIL.
One of the ways that partnerships between universities and employers have been strengthened is through the development of the 2015 National Strategy on Work Integrated Learning in University Education. Universities Australia, the Australian Collaborative Education Network, AiGroup, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia, the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training and the Office of the Chief Scientist partnered on this Strategy to facilitate deeper connections between universities and employers and to promote the benefits of WIL for all stakeholders.
One of the strategy’s actions is to develop a national profile of current WIL activity in the higher education sector, measuring the level of participation in WIL by students enrolled in Australia’s universities. In 2018, Universities Australia (UA) undertook a national survey of the WIL activities that occurred in 2017 across Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities. The survey is the first data collection of its kind, and the survey results provide the higher education sector with a baseline from which to measure progress. The results clearly demonstrate the extent and diversity of WIL activities across the higher education sector and reflect the commitment of universities to improving graduate employability.
The survey results have also provided a nuanced understanding of the experiences of particular student cohorts in accessing and undertaking WIL, such as international students, Indigenous students, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. This understanding is critical to improving the breadth and depth of WIL opportunities so that all students – regardless of their culture, ethnicity or background – can benefit