D. Frison1, M. Fedeli1, E.W. Taylor2

1University of Padua (ITALY)
2Penn State University (UNITED STATES)
Within the process of modernisation of Europe’s Higher Education System (CEC, 2011), the European documents have still been urging the EU Countries to encourage the University-Business Dialogue (CEC, 2009) and to strengthen partnerships between Higher Education (HE), business and the research sector (EC, 2013). This connection between HE and employers, companies, and labour market institutions concerns what is mentioned in American literature as Work-Related Learning (Dirkx, 2011) and in Australian literature as Work-Integrated Learning (Cooper, Orrell & Bowden, 2010; McLennan & Keating, 2008). The literature review, which is still in progress, highlights that these two terms both refer to the integration between practical experience (such as work) and the educational one (such as formal course) in order to create meaningful benefits for students and other stakeholders (Gardner & Barktus, 2014). Precisely, as Dirkx (2011) underlines, Work-Related Learning (WRL) occurs in formal programmes apart from the workplace, in formal and informal learning within the workplace, and in continuing education and professional development outside the workplace. In this study we are referring to WRL, as the process that promotes connections between formal education and work.

Within this framework a wider research project has started in Italy since the end of 2013, led by the University of Padua. The aim of the National project, financed by the Ministry of University and Research, is to modernize and innovate teaching and learning methods in HE Italian System.

Starting from a large literature, a questionnaire addressed to students has been created taking into account the analysis of Nation and International questionnaires about the evaluation of courses and of study experiences (Fedeli, Frison, Coryell, 2014). The main focus of the tool is about personalized learning (Keefe & Jenkins, 2000; Shaikh & Khoja, 2012; Waldeck 2007) and learner centred teaching (Weimer, 2013) and the last of the five areas of the questionnaire is about University-Business Dialogue and WRL. The tool has been administered to 50,000 students, belonging to four Italian Universities (Florence, Naples Parthenope, Padua and Siena) in order to investigate the students’ perceptions about teachers’ behaviours related to WRL. This contribution will show the first findings of the survey. 3,200 questionnaires have been collected and the matching with administrative databases is still in progress. The first data, now available, related to three of the four Universities involved, underline that about 67% of the students stated that less than 25% of the instructors (whom they met during their study experience) proposed dissertation projects in partnership with business while 72% of the students declared that less than 25% of the instructors suggested activities in cooperation with organizations (e.g. internship opportunities, workshop, research projects in partnership). The other two items aim to promote reflections on the links among study course and professions, promotion of soft skills and the involvement of business testimonials within courses. More details about the findings will be provided, considering how to foster work-related teaching and learning methods in the Italian Higher Education System.