WIL in science: are we making progress?

WIL in Science: are we making progress?

In 2015, a national research project commissioned by the Office of the Chief Scientist showed that participation of science students in work integrated learning (WIL) activities was very low in comparison to other disciplines. Since then the ACDS made WIL a priority because it saw it as a means to improve the employability of science graduates, connect them with industry and better prepare them for the world of work. The ACDS has led two large-scale national projects to advance this agenda: Leadership for WIL in Science funded by the Office of the Chief Scientist, and the OLT funded project Successful WIL in Science. These projects generated a high level of activity and engaged academics, professional staff, and industry partners across the country. At the conclusion of these projects, the ACDS funded a third project to explore changes in provision of WIL in science faculties.

As with the previous two WIL projects, this third project was lead by Professor Liz Johnson and consisted of a desktop review of WIL subjects available through the BSc, and self-reported WIL activities collected through a survey to science faculties (or equivalent).

A report of this snapshot of provision of WIL in science faculties is now available. Here is the executive summary of the main findings:

Provision of work-integrated learning in Bachelor of Science degrees has become common, although still less so than in other STEM disciplines associated with professional degrees. Information from public websites was corroborated by feedback from science faculties.

    Placements have become normalised: over 50% of the BSc degrees reviewed included an elective WIL unit offered through the Faculty of Science (or equivalent).
    The structure of WIL within BSc degrees varies considerably: WIL is most often offered as elective, but was a completion requirement in five degrees and a requirement associated with specific majors in others.

Science faculty reports suggest that student participation and industry involvement in work-integrated learning vary.

    Most faculties report participation across multiple forms of WIL.
    Most faculties report that the proportion of students that participate in placements is low (0-25%).
    Industry partners are primarily involved in the provision of placements and projects, but sometimes also contribute to design of WIL experiences and are asked to contribute to assessment.

Building capability to deliver work-integrated learning is a focus of many science faculties.

    Most faculties primarily rely on institutional definitions and policies for WIL, and do not have additional faculty specific versions of these.
    The majority of faculties had allocated specific resources to work-integrated learning. This most often involved the appointment of partial roles related to WIL or dedicated staff. These resources were sometimes shared with other discipline areas.
    Industry partners were primarily involved in the delivery of work placements and projects, but sometimes also contributed to design. Most faculties encourage industry partners to contribute to the assessment of students.

This snapshot report suggests that awareness of WIL in science faculties is widespread, but substantial questions remain about how to best deliver successful WIL programs. Faculties have taken steps to increase access to WIL, and intent to normalise WIL within the study of science is clear. Low student participation remains an issue and requires specific focus to remove barriers (Johnson et al., 2019). The next challenge for science faculties is to ensure that WIL activities are offered in ways that are sustainable and valuable to students, employers and science faculties.

Read the full report here.

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