Mind the Gap: Is the Regulation of Work-Integrated Learning in Higher Education Working?
journal contributionposted on 29.10.2019, 09:44 by Anne Hewitt;Rosemary Owens;Andrew Stewart
Many students feel that they are caught in a catch-22: they cannot gain work experience because they cannot find a job, but they cannot secure a job without having work experience. Consequently, opportunities to gain experience while studying, including work-integrated learning (‘WIL’) associated with university study, are becoming increasingly important, and the position of students undertaking work experience increasingly vulnerable. Students who wish to engage in WIL face a range of challenges, including accessing quality opportunities, maximising the learning benefits they can obtain from the experience, and ensuring they are treated appropriately within the workplace. Consideration of these issues indicates that the regulation of WIL is both complicated and fractured, not least because WIL may be envisaged as either ‘work’ or ‘learning’ — each of which is regulated by different actors through different regulatory schemes and with different objectives. This article introduces the concept of WIL, identifies some of the reasons for its rapid growth in the tertiary sector in recent years, and considers the ways it is regulated in Australia. It argues that, as a consequence of the gaps and lack of transparency in the current regulatory approach, the law is complicit in maintaining the precarious position of students trying to enter the workforce. Failing to extend protections against discrimination and harassment to those engaged in WIL, and failing to provide a sufficiently consistent or transparent regime to ensure educational quality, compound students’ existing vulnerability. This is contrasted with the regulatory systems in other countries, notably France, which offer protections to workplace learners against exploitation and seek to ensure educational outcomes.