D. Hewlett, L. Harding

University of Winchester (UNITED KINGDOM)
Since the 1990s University education in the UK has been under scrutiny for the perceived gap on what is taught in universities and what is actually needed in practice! Critiques have been exacerbated since 2008 with the economic recession which has resulted in increasing competition amongst graduates for a decreasing number of graduate employment opportunities.

Employers have questioned graduates’ employability and together with increases in student fees, a consumership of university education has developed alongside the public’s lack of confidence in its efficacy. Consequently, the public’s demand on universities for enhancing graduates’ knowledge, skills and ultimately, their employability has been asserted.

University initiatives to meet these demands have resulted in the diversification of pedagogic paradigms requiring student-centred learning and adherence to distinctive learning abilities. Yet ultimately a bridge through university-industry collaborations is emphasised through for example internships.

One such initiative driven by the University of Winchester, Hampshire concerns the Winchester Research Apprenticeship Programme (WRAP). This externally recognised model of good practice emphasises students’ development by increasing their understanding for academic research inclusive of literary searches and data collection. Subsequently, a real potential is created to not only support student learning in preparation for their final year dissertation but can also contribute to enhancing their final year award. On achievement, the student’s greater ability to compete in a highly competitive employers’ market could feasibly be assumed.

Yet, the WRAP initiative has a further potential to create student engagement in a number of alternative projects inclusive of those focused on bid preparations and tendering processes where external funds for research are being sought and even on projects that are already commissioned by Research Councils. Where such opportunities are created, highly employable skills of communication, team working, project/financial management are enhanced. Further, where students’ engagement in networking activities with academics and practitioners are created, a direct link to employers has the potential to be established. This paper argues that such externally funded research projects, particularly those aimed at Knowledge Exchange amongst academics and practitioners provide the ultimate form of undergraduate opportunity.

One such project is presented in this paper as a case study. Its potential to enhance not only student learning, lecturer delivery and networking amongst academics, practitioners and students is overt yet ultimately is also evidenced to enhance students’ employability and further their progression into their chosen careers. Funded by the Economic Social Science Research Council (ESRC) the ‘Broadly Engaging with Tranquillity Project (BETP)’ is wholly underpinned by principles of knowledge exchange amongst academics and practitioners from the public, NGO and private sectors. Early on in the project’s development, an opportunity to extend the principle of knowledge exchange to our undergraduate students was identified. Three WRAP students were hired during the course of this project. This paper presents the outcomes of their involvement from 5 perspectives: the project, academics and practitioners, the student and finally from the University perspective.