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The Business Placement Student: A Dying Breed? A Case Study xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx University

Work-based learning at higher education level has long been a feature of UK higher education; for example, in the 1950s, the National Council for Technological Awards advocated that undergraduate programmes in engineering and technology should incorporate planned periods of industrial placement. The emphasis on vocationalism in the Robbins Report (Robbins, 1963) led to the development of polytechnics in the 1960s and in subsequent years work-based placements have been introduced into a wide variety of undergraduate programmes. The most common of these is the 12 month work placement undertaken between level 5 and level 6 of an undergraduate programme. This is commonly referred to as a “sandwich year”. It is this type of work placement that is undertaken by students on the BA Business undergraduate portfolio at xxxxxxxxx University. This encompasses students on the BA Business Studies, BA Business and Finance, BA Accounting and other named awards. Proponents of such sandwich degree programmes argue that a variety of benefits can accrue from the student’s placement year (Richardson and Blakeney, 1998; Glen, 2006). These benefits may vest themselves in either the student or the employer’s organisation. For instance a student returning from a placement year is often felt to have a more mature outlook to work and also a better perspective of their course and how academic theories relate to the business world (Richardson and Blakeney, 1998). Also it has been argued that a students reflective ability and ability of analytical and critical thinking is improved by a years work placement (Lucas and Tan, 2007). Work experience, in addition, can enhance a range of personal attributes such as time-management, self-confidence and adaptability. It also aids the development of interactive attributes such as team working, interpersonal skills and communication skills such as those involving information technology and languages (Little and Harvey, 2006). For employers there is the benefit of additional workers at low cost but also provides the possibility that students may contribute an injection of new ideas into the organisation. Also it has potential recruitment benefits in providing the opportunity for employers to give a potential employee a trial without obligation (Anon, 2009). It also enables employers to develop links with higher education institutions for a range of possibilities including the ability to target high performing students upon graduation. During the last decade, however, a significant fall in the number of students undertaking placements has been noticed (HESA, 2009). This has been seen both nationally and at xxxxxxxx University and is true both in business undergraduate programmes and across a range of all programmes. The reasons for this may be manifold and the investigation of these trends will form the basis of this research project.

The initial review of the literature returned some statistical data and a significant amount of academic literature. However, it soon became apparent that there was not a large body of academic work in the specific topic area selected. The literature is concerned with the diverse benefits of student placements and work-based learning but there appears to be little research into the recent trend of falling numbers or the reasons for this. From HESA data (HESA, 2009) the number of full time equivalent students (FTE’s) on Business and Administrative undergraduate programmes rose from 167,968 in 1994/95 to 225,514 in 2006/07, a rise of 34%. However, during the same period the percentage of Business and Administrative undergraduates on “sandwich” programmes fell from 34.9% to 24.1%. Sandwich programmes however are clearly far more...
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