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C.A. Van Dorp1, A. Herrero de Egaña y Espinosa de los Monteros2

1European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (NETHERLANDS)
2Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (SPAIN)
Systemic innovation is considered any kind of dynamic system-wide change, intended to add value to education processes and outcomes. Systemic innovation aims to change the way in which education works, to make a structural and longstanding impact. The paper describes the potential of virtual internship arrangements for systemic innovation. It reports on the merits of a European Good-Practice project about virtual internship arrangements, executed within the Leonard da Vinci strand of the EC Lifelong Learning Programme. The project experimented with technology-enabled access to work, in support of the development of professional skills and competences. The project delivered different virtual internship arrangements as a contribution to the flexibilisation of work-based learning and the improvement of the professional mobility of students. The project’s objective was to develop professional skills and competences in students, sensitise mainstream education to the adoption of virtual internships, as well as contribute to the Copenhagen declaration regarding the modernisation of the European education and training system.

The pilots of the different university-business arrangements are described and the merits of scaling up the results to reach systemic impact, are discussed. In the paper, the question is raised, along which dimensions virtual placements need to be arranged in order to contribute to the development of professional skills and competences, to have an added value to the students, the organisations and the universities involved? The arrangements are presented by their learning objectives, didactical approaches and technological support. Universities from Belgium, Spain, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, Poland and the Netherlands participated in the multi-country pilots. The methods to implement the virtual internships varied from arrangements within existing university courses to the utilisation of free and mandatory study spaces. The interns worked either in university computer labs or off-campus i.e., residential. The conducted pilots are promising. Virtual internship arrangements are (work-based) learning arrangements with the potential to add value to the educational process by enhancing the learning mobility of future workers through modern university-business arrangements.

Virtual internships merit increased training opportunities, exposure to not or never-thought-of occupations, integration of disadvantaged individuals, and preparation of, and blending with, physical placements. It seems that virtual internships are transversal across education sectors, and are steadily becoming part of the curriculum of some open and distance teaching universities and a facultative part of some mainstream universities. In addition, virtual internships are arousing the interest of polytechnics and vocational education. The application of virtual internships is able to cover multiple sectors and different types of learning. There is potential for cross-sector valorisation of this type of innovation towards the other educational sectors. Mobilising actors in education from this situation onward is important. It can only be set in motion by the dissemination of evidence-based reports of the work done, along with the identification of innovation opportunities and the development of new policy directions and commitments, so as to allow the education system as a whole to learn from itself and the achievements of others.