Helping motivated students get great jobs matters, so we are honoring the top UK institutions that are finding innovative ways to help set their students up for success in the workforce.
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The Work-Based and Placement Learning Project (WBPL) at the University of Westminster, managed by Ben Powell, focuses on embedding a variety of work based and placement learning initiatives into the undergraduate curriculum to ensure that all students gain valuable employability skills alongside their studies.
The WBPL initiative is available to all undergraduates, and students must complete a minimum of 35 hours of work-based and placement learning to be eligible to take part in the programme, which provides students with the opportunity to increase their confidence, gain key employability skills, and be more likely to secure highly skilled graduate level positions.
Furthermore, the University-Wide Electives and Westminster Employability Award provide additional ways in which students can access and complete work-based learning tasks alongside their existing curriculum.
At the University of Greenwich, a focus is placed on the creation and provision of career-focused degrees that, through work-based learning initiatives and connections with employers, set students up for success beyond their studies. Through a range of in-curriculum and extra-curricular offerings, such as the Greenwich Employability Passport, students are able to engage with employers, receive recommendations, and gain the key skills that will make them job-ready.
The University of Greenwich has a number of exceptional team members who are passionate about innovating to improve the student experience and graduate outcomes. In the Business School, Katherine Leopold (Faculty Employability Lead & Senior Teaching Fellow) and the team are taking huge leaps to ensure that all students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels have access to work-based learning programmes as part of their curriculum learning.
Through the inclusion of the Wolverhampton Enterprise and Employability Award (WEEA) within 100% of undergraduate courses, all students at the University of Wolverhampton are provided with the opportunity to develop and market key employability skills. The WEEA focuses on the core areas of self-awareness, industry awareness, self-promotion, and work-based learning, and is a great way for students to gain recognition for the skills and experiences they have gained.
At a faculty level, Vikki Potts (Associate Director of the Business School) and the team have worked to integrate job simulations into a wide range of modules on offer for students at each stage of their degree. In completing job simulations with companies such as BCG, KPMG, Citi, JPMorgan and more, students are able to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom in a practical setting to better understand work in practice, and to increase their ability to talk to the skills and experiences they have gained.
At the University of Warwick, emphasis is placed on enabling students to gain knowledge, skills and experiences both in their academic programme, but also outside of the classroom through extra-curricular activities and initiatives.
This commitment to extracurricular skills development is demonstrated through the Warwick Award. This programme, piloted in the summer of 2022 by Parmjit Dhugga, provides students with valuable work-based learning opportunities and recognises their participation. During the pilot, over 1,000 students logged activities that count towards their 'Core Skills Points'. The award launched fully in October 2022 and is now a university-wide initiative.
This focus on extra-curricular skills building, work experience, and student placement and enterprise has led to Warwick being the 6th most targeted university by the UK's top 100 graduate employers.
The University of Bristol ensures that, through innovative course design, all students have the opportunity to engage in real-life research projects and extracurricular activities that allow them to gain a breadth of transferrable skills that enable them to stand out to employers. The Bristol Futures programme guides students to fulfil their academic and personal potential through study skills sessions, optional modules, open online courses and external engagement opportunities, and counts towards the fulfilment of the Bristol PLUS Award.
The work of the Careers Service, and in particular Rob Taffinder (Assistant Director Careers Service (External Engagement and Student Enterprise)), is testament to this continued commitment to help students to get ahead. Each year, the service awards £35,000 to students, staff and alumni to fund start-ups through the New Enterprise Competition, sponsored by SETSquared, VWV, the Engineers in Business Fellowship, Bristol Grid and Santander.
The Queen Mary University of London's approach to experiential learning and career discovery is centred around students exploring their options, acquiring and showcasing experiences and skills, and transitioning towards the next step. This is delivered to students through a wide range of initiatives that are both embedded in and sit alongside the academic programmes. Almost all students at QMUL are able to spend a year abroad or in industry, or take part in outward student mobility opportunities. At a school level, the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) have adapted the existing mySkills framework, created by Dr Usman Naeem, to ensure that students complete bite-sized work-based learning simulations with companies such as Accenture, General Electric and bp as part of their course.
The Careers and Enterprise Service, led by Judith Baines, provide a further range of initiatives for students to get involved in, from QTaster bite-sized visits to employer sites, to the QIncubator programme with supports students looking to develop their own ideas. In partnership with faculty, the service is looking to expand its offering of placements and work experience opportunities twofold.
The University of Huddersfield is committed to preparing students for the future, and has embedded industrial sandwich placements into its courses for over 20 years. Through a wide range of placement learning opportunities, students are able to fulfil their academic, professional and personal potential and are prepared for life after university.
Leading this work-based learning charge is Huddersfield Business School, which incorporates the unique Learning Innovation and Development Centre as a timetabled programme that ensures all students are provided with an opportunity to hone their undergraduate and postgraduate study skills. Furthermore, the Development Week programme encourages students to "try something out of the ordinary" to build skills and learn from their experiences. As part of this programme, students have opted to complete virtual work-based learning programmes with top organisations such as Accenture, Goldman Sachs, BCG and HSBC.
At the University of East London, careers come first. The university is driven by a commitment to providing innovative, practical and career-focused teaching that gives students the skills required to be successful in the workplace. Aisha Labefo-Audu, Partnerships Manager, leads the charge in facilitating over 2,000 employer partnerships which provide students with work-based learning opportunities within the curriculum, and the Career Zone offers over 1,500 graduate opportunities to students.
This commitment can be demonstrated through the work of the Royal Docks School of Business and Law, where all students are required to complete bite-sized work-based learning placements as part of the curriculum during 'Mental Wealth' modules. Students also have the opportunity to experience law in practice through the provision of free written legal advice to members of the public with the UEL Legal Advice Centre, led by Director Saadiya Ahmad.
Work-based learning at Durham University is centred on the notion that "a good degree, even from a world-class institution, is not enough to secure a job". That is why the Careers, Employability & Enterprise Centre (CEEC) offer a wide range of internal and external opportunities for students to develop key employability skills that will aid them in taking the next step to employment.
The CEEC, led by Catherine Richardson, facilitates the provision of work experience placements and placement years to students, with the aim of providing students with the opportunity to gain a broad range of skills that employers value. Furthermore, the Durham Internships and Collaborative Enterprise programmes enable students to access internships at SMEs with <250 employees in the local area, and the Game Changer challenges get students to explore global problems and generate ideas that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The University of Cambridge Careers Service prepares students for their futures, regardless of where they are in their academic journey. Offering fourteen annual career events and skills sessions, the Careers Service works to assist students in navigating the job market, and connects students with employers. The Careers Service's social media presence inspires Cambridge students and graduates, providing opinions, advice, and perspective from current and former students.
The Cambridge Judge Business School's MBA programme is a testament to their dedication to experiential learning, which incorporates core course modules and real-world experience via the MBA Global Consulting Project (GCP). Headed by Sadia Cuthbert, the GCP pairs students with global host organisations to explore industries, investigate key management issues, and generate recommendations.
The University of Reading is dedicated to supporting students and alumni with planning for their future careers. Students have the opportunity to gain recognition for their experiences that make them stand out in a competitive job market through the Reading Experience and Development (RED) Award. The RED Award has seen over 13,000 registrations and involves students completing 35 hours of work-based learning via internships and part-time jobs, and 5 hours of soft skills training and development.
The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) gives undergraduate students the opportunity to work alongside academics across university departments to gain "hands-on research experience" that proves beneficial to students when navigating career prospects and further study. At Reading, students can also utilise the THRIVE Mentoring Scheme to find internships and be connected to professional mentors during their time at the university.
Across four key initiatives (the Summer Internship Programme, the Micro-Internship Programme, Crankstart Internship & Careers Mentoring Programmes and the Promentor Programme), students at Oxford are connected to multi-national corporations, world-leading NGOs, think tanks and more to take part in internships or project based learning initiatives.
Students at the University of Oxford are encouraged to hone their employability skills while studying, and have the opportunity to undertake exclusive Micro-Internships to develop key employability skills, make informed career decisions, expand their networks, and enrich their CVs.
The University of Manchester boasts "highly employable" graduates, and is the most targeted university in the UK by top graduate employers. At Manchester, students receive an education that prepares them for employment, and are assessed on skills that employers value through embedded career development opportunities that carry an authentic assessment element.
Throughout a degree at Manchester, students are offered a wide range of extra-curricular programmes, such as participation in the Stellfiy Award, which complement their studies and allows students to make informed career decisions. Similarly, the University also recognises the importance of its civic responsibilities, and students, staff and alumni often engage with the Greater Manchester community. For example, the School of Pharmacy encourages students to partake in service learning, a curriculum-integrated project, where they visit local schools to promote public health.
King's College London's approach to experiential learning focuses on widening access to diverse student cohorts and supporting the vast research talent. With the option to enrol on King's Careers & Employability initiative, students are provided interactive courses and a variety of resources to aid in developing key employability skills. The university also offers academic credit to students for their participation in work-based activities through the Accredited Internships Programme, which integrates experiential learning directly into the curriculum for over 10 courses.
The King's Insights Programme provides experiences such as virtual work simulations and work shadowing opportunities to support students in making informed career decisions, and the cross-departmental Global Internships on offer enable students to travel overseas to undertake internships and project-based activities.
Through the Leeds Internship Programme, the University of Leeds partners with local Small and Medium sized enterprises, multi-national organisations and charities to provide hands-on paid experience for their students across all year groups.
The university is focused on developing students' key skills and immersing them in the interesting projects and invaluable insights of the working world. Undergraduate students are encouraged to complete a variety of Accredited Employability Modules offered by the careers centre, which aim to provide an understanding of entrepreneurship and insights into the graduate job market.
The university also offers in-faculty appointments for students to discuss employability options with professionals who have experience within the relevant sectors, as well as application preparation and numerous opportunities and events for networking and gaining experience.
At Edinburgh Napier University, courses are designed with work-based learning in mind. In taking an experiential learning by design approach, employability is a key focus at every stage from module design to delivery, and allows Edinburgh Napier University to combine academic rigour with professional and vocational learning.
Through a combination of project-based activities, students are able to work towards completing the Employability Skills Programme which provides them with the skills required to be successful in the workplaces, and epitomises the work conducted by Skills Development Scotland. Dr Sarah Borthwick Saddler of the Business School demonstrated a continued commitment through the visualisation, launch and ongoing delivery of an entirely virtual Employability Skills Programme that benefitted over 2,000 students during the pandemic, which was aimed at developing students' curiosity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration.
The University of Lincoln Careers Team is focused on providing students the opportunity to enhance their future career prospects and employability skills at every stage of their academic journey. Through the Horizons: Postgraduate Employability Programme, postgraduate students are able to explore the key skills required to be successful in the workplace, and undertake professional networking. Similarly, offered exclusively to University of Lincoln students, the Talent Programme recruits graduates to complete internships and gain real-world experiences in a variety of sectors.
Additionally, Lincoln students can distinguish themselves among their peers through the Lincoln Award, an employability framework designed to hone and display employability skills via extracurricular activities. To achieve the award, students must complete a number of work-based learning programmes.
The Careers Network at Loughborough University continues to further the University’s strategic aim of strengthening their sector-leading position for education and student experience. The University is dedicated to providing an outstanding student experience, by embedding employability and life skills within the curriculum and curricular activities, and equipping students with the right skills and experiences for their future careers.
Loughborough University partners with a variety of organisations to offer Talent Match Micro-Internships to first and second-year students. These paid internships provide valuable work experience allowing students to develop career insights. For Finalists and Graduates, Loughborough provides Graduate Internships for students to gain hands-on experience.
The Career Central team at UEA are passionate about creating experiences that allow students to achieve their ambitions. Their methodology involves working closely across faculties to ensure that all students are aware of the variety of career options before them, from their first day at UEA until after they graduate. By partnering with industry-leading organisations, UEA facilitates Knowledge Transfer Partnerships; connecting graduates with businesses to cultivate innovation and create positive collaboration.
UEA offer a comprehensive programme of employer events, such as workshops to explore different industries, as well as their Mentoring Programme that connects students with alumni, entrepreneurs and experienced professionals to gain insight into different career options.
The University also offers an award recognising students’ dedication to developing their employability skills and attributes, through experiential learning, both academically and extra-curricular. The UEA Award allows students to articulate their achievements and stand out to future employers.
At De Monfort University, there is a heavy investment in the students’ futures. DMU are dedicated to sharpening employability skills; supporting students with guaranteed work experience, opportunities for short and long placements, an impressive Employability Mentoring scheme and more.
Their bespoke employability service, DMU Works, promises their students a career commitment, allowing them to access tailored career support, access to digital tools for application preparation, and lifelong career support for students and alumni. The University partner with organisations such as ASOS, Disney and Microsoft, providing the opportunity to partake in virtual and in-person internships, placements and more. Through industry showcases such as Graduate Fashion Week and Congress to Campus, DMU ensures that experiential learning is easily accessible to its students.
Employability skills development at the University of Birmingham forms part of the student experience from day one. The Birmingham Project, a programme exclusively for first-year students, allows students to engage with top employers such as IBM, Lloyds Banking Group and PwC on a two-week long project learning based challenge. This is a great opportunity for students right at the start of their academic and professional journey to build the skills that employers are looking for, and to network with them.
Furthermore, students can complete their Personal Skills Award to demonstrate to future employers that they have engaged with the industry, gained key skills that will make them successful, and allows them to network with graduate recruiters. With these initiatives running throughout the student journey, alongside the bespoke mentoring programmes led by the Careers Network, students can take a flexible and personalised approach towards their personal and professional development.
The award-winning careers team at Aston University assist students with all things employability: applications, personalised support, and a variety of industry events focused on helping students map out their dream career path. The Careers and Placements Team offer a variety of digital resources and face-to-face support to help students to reach their full career potential.
In particular, the Business School, headed by Pawan Budhwar, pioneered the Aston Global Advantage Scheme, a professional development programme embedded into the MSc curriculum which aims to equip students with transferable employability skills that are highly valued by graduate employers. Furthermore, in the Law School, Jonathan Fortnam (Dean of Aston Law School) and Luke Campbell (Senior Lecturer in Law) developed an innovative Business Law & Practice module in which students are required to complete virtual job simulations with global law firms.
All courses at Southampton Solent University are designed with employability in mind, which makes work-based and industry learning a priority so that students can explore careers and gain the necessary skills to help them to get there. The bespoke Solent Futures Online portal connects students with local and national businesses and organisations such as Southampton FC, ABP Southampton Marathon, B&Q and Carnival. In utilising these industry connections, students can complete placements as part of their course to fulfil their workplace learning requirements.
A stand-out initiative is Solent Creatives, an on-campus creative agency where students can work on live briefs from over 1,000 clients, including M&S, the NHS, Mencap and Bear Grylls. Through working on these briefs, students gain key industry connections, as well as building their key employability skills portfolio.
The Careers and Employability Team at the University of Nottingham are the UK’s second most targeted university by top recruiters. As such, employability is of huge importance at Nottingham.
The University of Nottingham offers a variety of initiatives exclusive to their students and graduates. The Nottingham Internship Scheme partners with small to medium-sized enterprises (SME’s), charities and social organisations in the East Midlands, connecting students and graduates to experiential learning opportunities. Similarly, their Nottingham Consultancy Challenge encourages students to ‘learn by doing;’ virtually collaborating within a multidisciplinary group of students working with a local organisation.
The University also invests heavily in work experience grants and opportunities for students to gain insight and hands-on sector knowledge. The Digital Marketing Academy gives students the chance to network with industry professionals and gain an insight into a digital marketing career, whilst completing modules and accredited training highly valued by employers.
The University of Essex are dedicated to “excellence in education.” Their methodology is very research-oriented; prioritising the opportunities for students to gain direct research experience in their chosen field. This allows students to develop their transferable and employability skills.
As such, experiential learning is embedded directly into their curriculum. The University offer work placements and Work Based Learning (WBL), which offers students experience working with external organisations such as companies, government bodies and charities, to complete “live projects” as a part of the curriculum. The Careers team at the University offer help and advice in developing skills and gaining work experience throughout students’ university journeys.
The importance of work-based learning forms a key part of Brunel University's 2030 Vision, with the journey to provide meaningful experiences to students outside of their academic studies accelerating in recent years.
Highlighting this acceleration is the Brunel Placements team, in particular Deputy Director Mohamed Rahman, who facilitate the provision of work-based learning opportunities to students on over 95% of their courses. The scale of this initiative, which has seen students to complete work placements with General Electric, PwC, Jaguar Land Rover and more, led to the placement team being awarded 'Best Widening Participation Initiative' at the NUE Awards (2020).
The Brunel+ initiative, facilitated by the Professional Development Centre, also enables all students to receive recognition for their efforts in extra-curricular activities. Focusing on community contributions, appreciation of global cultures, the development of work related skills and wellbeing. In accumulating points to move up the levels of the Award, students are able to demonstrate that they are well-rounded applicants who can show additional skills and experiences beyond their academic results.
At the University of Bolton, work-based learning and employability initiatives are delivered in three stages throughout the student journey, focused on getting students to; gather information about themselves, gather information about the opportunities available to them, and finally making a practical plan that will see them reach the end goal that they have determined.
The University of Bolton understands that while it is important that students gain these key skills, it is also vital that students are equipped with the tools to be able to reflect on the skills that they have gained, and demonstrate these to employers. That is why the University of Bolton developed the Graduate Attributes Matrix for Employability (GAME). The GAME allows students to track their progress in developing 10 key employability skills, and promotes self-reflection on these skills that enable them to evidence and prove to employers that they have put these skills into practice.
At the University of Lancaster, employability is "not just about getting a job after you finish your degree. It is about the skills and attributes you develop which make you successful in what you do during and after your time at university". Students are recognised for their participation in extra-curricular activities outside of their academic studies through the Lancaster Award which requires students to complete employability activities and then reflect on the skills that they have developed to learn how to best talk to them in an interview.
Furthermore, employability is embedded directly into the curriculum in a number of courses at Lancaster. Notably, third-year students in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts can take the "Creative Enterprise Module" which could see them undertake a range of activities in the local community, such as the development and delivery of a one-day micro-festival, whilst also developing key demonstrable employability skills.
Birmingham City University has invested heavily in the education and future of its students. They currently offer students the opportunity to gain industry and professional experience via mentoring opportunities and work placements in partnership with top organisations such as Microsoft, Jaguar Land Rover, Sky UK and more. The opportunities for students to develop and enhance their career motivations are vast.
In addition to this, the University also launched a Graduate+ initiative, which seeks to embed employability skills into each degree course on offer. Through extra & co-curricular programmes, students are able to stand out from the crowd when applying for graduate positions. Following a tiered approach, the award seeks to take students through a journey of personal and professional development, from exploration and discovery to experience and reflection.
The Centre for Experiential Learning at the University of Edinburgh provides an informal hub dedicated to promoting the value of learning by doing at the University. The CfEL's focus is on bringing colleagues together to explore themes, challenges and opportunities in experiential learning, and to provide a space where educators can share their learnings and best practices. With a focus on embedding employability within both credit bearing courses and extra and co-curricular activities, students gain exposure to invaluable work-based learning opportunities at every stage of their journey at Edinburgh.
Examples of these initiatives include the Design Agency Project, overseen by Zoe Patterson, which offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and guidance from professionals in graphic design, the Experiential Learning in Communities project, and the Living Lab, headed by Arno Verhoeven.