Linking Organisations and Students
This process begins once potential opportunities have been converted into concrete project proposals. Be sure to plan in advance as linking students to a WBP is more resource and time intensive than for university-based dissertation projects. Project records need to be kept up to date during this period to keep track of how many projects are available and which students have been put forward to employer organisations.
There are two main methods for linking students with projects; programme-led or employer organisation-led. Although a programme-led approach is easier to implement, some employer organisations may wish to review a number of candidates via a selection process. The complexity of the process will depend on the number of applicants and projects.
If possible, it is recommended that all projects are advertised to students at the same time. This may be done through an information session or a secure online area. It is important at this stage to reiterate that WBPs are not for everyone and to outline the major differences in undertaking a WBP as opposed to a university-based project. Neither should be seen as an ‘easy’ option and both should have equivalent learning outcomes.
At this stage, it is recommended not to provide contact details for individual projects unless the employer organisation has indicated that they are happy to answer individual queries. Other important factors to consider:
- Are WBPs open to all students or are there restrictions (e.g. only those with a certain mark from semester 1 can apply)?
- Do any of the projects have specific requirements (e.g. someone who can drive etc.)?
- Can students express interest in more than one project?
- If more than one employer organisation selects the same student, who will have the final decision?
- Are employer organisations willing to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates?
- Who will inform the successful candidates e.g. employer organisation or WBP staff?
A typical procedure is to set a date by which students should submit a CV and covering letter outlining their skills, experience and motivation for the project(s) they wish to undertake. Our section on Applying for a Work Based Project contains example application forms currently in use.
Your careers service is well placed to support students in writing CV’s and covering letters. This includes information, guidance, checking services and running sessions. It is advisable to discuss students’ requirements as early as possible with your careers service, and well in advance of any application deadlines, to ensure a convenient time is available before the projects are advertised.
1. Linking students with projects: programme-led
In a programme-led selection process, the WBP staff should review students’ applications and select the appropriate student for each project.
Successful students should be informed of the outcome and asked to confirm that they are willing to undertake the project. The student’s details, including the CV and covering letter, can then be forwarded to the organisation as the nominated candidate for the project. If the employer organisation is satisfied with the proposed student the WBP staff can introduce the two parties via email and should be copied into all initial correspondence.
Ideally, all employer organisations should receive details of proposed candidates at the same time and be given a timeline for informing the WBP staff/student of the outcome. This deadline should allow time for interviews to be conducted if requested. If possible, unsuccessful students should be given feedback to assist with their ongoing development.
2. Linking students with projects: employer organisation-led
If employer organisations have requested to review a number of possible candidates, it will be necessary to implement an employer organisation-led selection process for those specific projects.
If there are only a small number of projects available and/or the details are received at different times, the WBP staff may choose simply to circulate the opportunity by email or post it on an online message board and invite students to apply directly to the employer organisation.
However, in order to give students the best chance of success and also to maintain the reputation of the academic programme and the HE institution, it is recommended that all CVs are screened before being sent to the organisation. Furthermore, the WBP staff should communicate with the employer organisation to keep up to date regarding which students have been selected for interview and subsequently offered WBPs.
3. Unused projects
For some projects, it may not be possible to find a suitable student in the first instance. This may change if other projects do not work out. Unused projects can be passed to colleagues in other schools, institutions or your careers service who may be able to find a suitable candidate. The employer organisation should be kept informed of progress throughout and made aware of any difficulties encountered, such as a lack of student interest in a particular project.
Engaging and Supporting Students in Work Based Projects
In order to engage and support students with work-based projects (WBPs) a number of resources have been developed which provide support to students in making the transition into an employer organisation, and with their long term career development.
The resources have been developed to be as flexible as possible, with a mix of:
Workshops which can be incorporated into existing teaching or used stand alone.
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) based resources which can be used either to complement or as an alternative to the workshops. Additionally, these allow the potential for students to self-select material most relevant to their needs (see figure 1).
‘Quick Guides’ which provide key information for students in a quick reference format on a number of topics.
A ‘pick and mix’ approach should be taken when selecting which resources to deliver to students so as only the most appropriate material is presented. Further, it is strongly suggested that resources are tailored to meet the specific needs of particular students groups. To aid this resources can be customised and are accompanied by facilitator’s notes, indicating how this can be achieved. Your local careers service will be able to provide advice and support on selection and tailoring of the resources for your students.
It is the responsibility of awarding institutions to ensure that employer organisations and students are provided with appropriate and timely information, support and guidance prior to the commencement of a WBP.
This information can be captured and recorded through completion of a project plan and project agreement before the project begins. There are also additional resources which may be integrated into the programme to ensure students undertaking WBPs are fully prepared.
1. Communication between the student, WBP staff and employer organisation
As with university-based projects, all students will have an academic supervisor to consult with about the scholarly content of their work.
The WBP staff and academic supervisor should decide who will be the contact person for the student with regards to administrative arrangements, and who will be the main contact point for the employer organisation.
The employer organisation should also appoint the main contact person for administrative issues and an employer organisation supervisor who is directly involved in the project. In some cases, this may be the same person.
The student is the key link in all correspondence and as such the importance of good communication should be emphasised from the outset. Communication channels between named contacts and agreed dates and procedures for updates should be clarified in both the Project Plan Form and the Project Agreement.
2. Resources for project preparation
In addition to requirements for a university-based project, students must be made fully aware of their responsibilities and entitlements while they undertake a WBP, in particular, if they are to spend considerable time with the employer organisation.
2.1 Student Handbook
The programme handbook should contain a section which covers any differences between a WBP and university-based project. This may include:
- the application process
- assessment format and criteria
- timings and key dates
2.1.1 Guidance for Programme student handbooks
It is hoped that this appendix will assist those who are developing resources to support the delivery of Work Based Projects (WBPs) as part of their programme. It suggests information that could be incorporated into Course Handbooks. It includes examples taken from existing handbooks at MMM partner institutions and we gratefully acknowledge their inclusion.
2.1.2 The Work Based Project Dissertation
The following could be included:
- Some background on the programmes experiences with WBPs, who’s involved and how the process is undertaken.
- Definition of what is meant by work based project
- Benefits/Considerations of doing a WBP
- Responsibilities. WBPs can fail, students should be aware of the risks at the outset and there should be a process of communication to alert the academic supervisor/ programme director of any issues.
- How are WBPs scoped? Project ideas arising from external organisations may require refining prior to becoming a research project. Consider how this refining process will be undertaken. E.g. staff and/or student involvement.
- Some comments on whether students can set-up their own projects and how this can be done. You may wish to include access to a copy of Quick Guides for Students– Sourcing a Work Based Project.
- Supervisory Arrangements.
- Some rules/guidelines pertaining to engagement e.g. professional conduct for interacting with host organisations. See Engaging students for more guidance.
- State whether students should anticipate any financial help and whether this is available.
- Responsibilities/roles of the student and other stakeholders. Reference to the Project Agreement at this stage should highlight the importance of defining roles, deadlines etc. and will reassure the student that there is a “formal” process.
2.2 Advertisement, application and recruitment to a WBP
- Are there any specific criteria required in order to apply?
- How will projects be advertised?
- What is the application process and who will be dealing with it? For example, is there a form which students should submit in order to apply? Does this form require a letter of motivation/CV? Does this form indicate students preference for external /or internal projects and selection of a certain number of projects? See Obtaining a Work Based Project for guidance and examples.
- Deadline dates for applying and being informed of the outcome. Remember if going through a competitive recruitment procedure, unsuccessful candidates will still require a project (consider how this will be dealt with especially with respect to timelines!).
- Is there any help during the application process e.g. Careers Service could assist with CV preparation and/or interview techniques. See Engaging and Supporting Students in Work Based Projects for further advice.
- Will students be linked to organisations by a programme-led or organisation-led approach?
- What is the timeline for the whole process? External employer organisations should be provided with a deadline especially if they are involved in the interview process.
- How will all the stakeholders be informed of the outcome? Suggest that there is a process for providing feedback to the student.
2.3 The project plan
For all dissertation projects, whether work-based or not, students are usually required to submit a Project Plan Form to their academic supervisor at the outset. This step should happen as normal, with additional input and comments from the employer organisation supervisor within the employer organisation.
Typically a project plan for a WBP should include:
- A review of relevant areas of theory linked to the masters programme
- An overview of research methods to be applied
- A contingency plan in the event of unforeseen delays or cancellation of the project
- The structure of inputs (days and tasks) and outputs (e.g. report format)
The project plan may also note any data/research expenses that are likely to be incurred during the course of the project so that the employer organisation can be made aware and provide funds as appropriate.
2.4 The project agreement
To ensure a degree of formality from all sides, it is strongly recommended that a Project Agreement is drawn up to be signed by the student, the WBP staff and the main contact in the employer organisation. The agreement sets out the responsibilities of each party and should act as a point of reference for any issues which arise during the course of the project.
A standard Project Agreement form and guidance can be found here.This can be used in its current form or amended as required. A copy of the agreement should be signed and retained by each party, to ensure that they are aware of and have understood their respective roles. It should include terms and conditions relating to established legal practices when working with employer organisations external to the institution.
Key points to be covered include:
- Names and responsibilities of the three parties;
- Agreed structure and dates for any site-visits, mid-point review and final submission;
- Clarification of communication channels;
- Project ownership and IP issues;
- Confidentiality agreement/data handling guidelines as appropriate;
- Health and safety requirements;
Suggested text for each of these issues is provided within Project Agreement and Associated Guidance, however, this may require amendment on a case-by-case basis.
2.4 Student support materials and briefings
It is good practice to encourage opportunities for students to be prepared for the workplace on topics such as workplace culture, business etiquette and professional standards.
It is worth noting that students undertaking WBPs with employer organisations will leave a lasting impression, not just of themselves, but also of the programme and institution which they are representing. The importance of leaving the right impression cannot be underestimated and as such preparing students well for the transition from working in university to working in a workplace is important.
In order to engage and support students with work-based projects (WBPs), a number of resources have been developed. These provide support to the students in making the transition into an employer organisation, and their longer term career development.
Some of these resources can be made available to students via a virtual learning environment (VLE) while others may be delivered by a facilitator (this may be a member of academic or careers staff). They are designed to be used before, during and after the WBP. Please refer to Engaging and Supporting Students in Work Based Projects for more information.
3. Other considerations
3.1 Ethical review
Normal department/school/university practice should be followed in relation to any requirements for ethical approval of a project.
3.2 International projects
International projects may take longer to organise and the clarification of roles and communication channels is extremely important. Normal university procedure should be followed in relation to overseas fieldwork and students undertaking WBPs abroad may require additional preparatory information. For further information and guidance on WBPs outside the UK, please see Overseas Projects.
3.3 Travel and accommodation arrangements
Students are responsible for arranging their own travel and accommodation if required, although it is hoped that the organisation would advise as to the most appropriate travel routes and places to stay. Travel expenses may be incurred if the student is completing primary research and visiting stakeholders or other organisations as part of the project. The student should:
- Agree all travel/subsistence expenses with the organisation before incurring them
- Keep accurate records of the expenses they incur while delivering the project
- Claim expenses from the organisation via an agreed channel
3.4 Complaints and disciplinary procedures
The student project handbook should make students aware of these procedures, and the project agreement should inform the employer organisation of the relevant contact should problems arise.
Students may have cause for complaint if employer organisations are not meeting their responsibilities, for example, in terms of time commitment; data provision; or payment of expenses. In the first instance, students should inform WBP staff who should discuss these issues directly with the employer organisation, with a view to continuing the project. If a suitable agreement cannot be reached, the WBP staff and academic supervisor should review the student’s project plan and work with them to ensure that an appropriate output can be achieved.
Conversely, employer organisations may have issues with a student’s performance, for example, poor attendance; breaching workplace regulations; or not meeting expectations. If this happens, the WBP staff should look to resolve the situation with the employer organisation and brief the student accordingly. If the problem continues, the WBP staff should negotiate with all parties to reach an agreeable solution. Important considerations are the student’s requirement for progression in the programme, university reputation and the relationship with the employer organisation.
3.5 Cancellation of the project
Projects may be cancelled at short notice either by student, institution or employer organisation. In all cases, the relevant parties must be informed promptly and given a suitable explanation. The reason for cancellation should also be recorded.
If cancellation results in the student requiring a new project, support should be given by the WBP staff and academic supervisor. The student’s project plan should include a contingency strategy and it may be possible to continue the project without input from the employer organisation. If early enough, there may be unused WBPs or university-based projects remaining that can be undertaken.
During the Project
Appropriate support must be available to the student throughout the period of the WBP from both WBP staff and employer organisation. This support may take a number of forms as detailed in the following sections.
1. Settling in and induction
Much of the information the student requires from their WBP Staff should be provided to them at the stage of pre-project briefings and/or in the student project handbook. The student’s responsibilities should also be detailed in the Project Agreement.
In addition to the legal obligations of employer organisations, they should be encouraged to provide the same level of support to the WBP student as they would provide other new members of staff. This could include training and participation in any mentoring or buddy schemes, which may operate. However, it should be recognised that this may not be possible due to the short timeframe of the WBP.
The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development have produced a factsheet for employers providing further guidance on induction of new employees, available at here. University HR departments will likely have similar guidance documents.
2. Communication between the student, WBP staff and employer organisation
Communication channels established in the project preparation phase and clarified in the Project Agreement should continue for the duration of the project to ensure high quality.
Communication may be in the form of personal visits, telephone calls, arranged official supervisory meetings, or email feedback forms and can be used either in an unofficial capacity or as part of programme requirements (i.e. mid-point reviews, formative assessment, or credit-bearing progression assessment). Communication must be undertaken on a proactive basis by the WBP staff and/or academic supervisor to ensure (among other topics) that the project’s milestones and timeline are being met; to gain feedback upon student development and ability; to troubleshoot any project issues; to ensure the employer organisation and employer organisation supervisor are inputting agreed supervision levels; and to be available for support and guidance for the student and the employer organisation.
The student should also have regular communication with their employer organisation supervisor. Although an agreed level of supervision and supervisory meetings will have been agreed upon, the student should be proactive and feel able to approach their employer organisation supervisor when requiring input.
3. Supervision and assessment
In most cases, the organisation will provide primary supervision of the project, regardless of whether the student is based within the organisation, or predominantly within the university. However, the university usually has overall responsibility for the academic assessment of the final output.
Levels of supervision by both the employer organisation and the WBP staff should be agreed at the project development stage and appear within the Project Agreement.
It is expected there will be an agreed minimum number of hours per week given over to project supervision, and this will be dependent upon a number of factors including project type, sector, staff availability, and student needs.
3.2 Assessment and alternative dissertation models
Awarding institutions are responsible for assuring the academic standards of their awards and the quality of provision leading to them, and to have in place policies and procedures to ensure that their responsibilities and those of their partners involved in WBPs are clearly identified and met.
It is important that the impact of failure or non-completion of any WBP on progression within an overall programme, and the provision of reassessment opportunities, is considered when developing the assessment criteria. It may also be agreed that employer organisations have a designated role in the assessment of the student's WBP, but it is important that all of those involved in the formal assessment are able to fulfil their roles, understand their responsibilities and are given sufficient support.
For different models of assessment, a useful reference point is the ASSIMILATE project, a National Teacher Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) project which explored innovative assessment at Masters Level. Of particular use is the tool for refreshing assessment at Masters Level and the compendium of examples of innovative assessment at Masters Level. It may be appropriate to formally assess the work based elements of the WBP as part of the overall dissertation assessment. Alternatively, this can be done as a more informal formative assessment activity such as the portfolio mentioned in ‘Helping students make the most of the experience’.
3.3 External examiners
External examiners play an important part in maintaining the quality of awards and learning opportunities, including those appropriate to WBPs. The commentary provided by the external examiner on WBP elements of a programme makes an important contribution to assuring the quality of the programme.
It is important that the external examiner is aware that there is a WBP component to the programme at the outset, and to gain external examiner input to this and to the overall assessment methods. It is common for external examiners to request additional information relating to WBPs to allow full consideration and for this to be placed in context. Such information may be in the form of employer feedback, an initial project outline, or the student’s project plan.
4. Helping students make the most of the experience
WBPs give students an opportunity to enhance their learning beyond the academic expectations provided by the project. They may gain a greater insight into themselves, the world of work and the employer organisation in which they are placed. It is recommended that students be encouraged to keep some form of learning log or journal through which they can document their experience. Use of reflective exercises can further enhance students’ learning from the whole experience. This is particularly useful where an element of reflection on the experience is included in the assessment. Documentation of the experience through a portfolio can encourage good time management; organisation and professionalism as well as ensuring key stages/forms are completed.
A number of resources are available to support students in making the most of the experience. These are detailed in:
Engaging and Supporting Students in Work Based Projects
Quick Guides for Students – Making the Most of your Work Based Project: things to consider
 QAA UK Code of Practice for Higher Education Chapters B3: Learning and Teaching, Indicators 2, 7 and 8; B4 Enabling student development and achievement Indicators 5 and 8; B10: Managing Higher Education provision with others, Indicator 7.
 QAA Code of Practice for Higher Education, ChapterB10 Managing Higher Education Provisions with Others, Indicator 7
 Masters students do not require a salary payment as the project is an inherent part of the degree programme. However, employer organisations are strongly encouraged to cover the cost of any travel and consumables associated with the project. Additional discretionary payments are not uncommon, however, this is not expected and any agreement would be between the employer organisation and the student. Such matters should be arranged prior to the project start date.
 QAA UK Code of Practice for Higher Education Chapter B10: Managing Higher Education provision with others, Indicators 7 and 8.