Our thanks to Professor Carol Costley for this report on the recent network conference. This report was first published on the UALL Work and Learning Network website
Creating Relevant Learning Experiences; Employers' involvement with higher education,
Leuven Belgium, 14 - 15 June 2018
Raimund Hudak's Beehives project, with its newly completed project on cooperation and collaboration barriers between HVET/ PHE institutions, employers/ labour markers and students contributed to our thinking on how to develop students with the knowledge and skills relevant for employability and personal development. The Work and Learning UK network with its 23 years of developments in research, learning and teaching in PHE courses and EURASHE with its European overview of PHE, came together in a unique event where we shared ideas, practice and a keen grasp on how we can develop future h.e. activity with employers and professional education with and for graduates and lifelong learners.
Different media helped us come to our understanding in a variety of ways. The Beehives workshop running through the first day, a broad set of papers within the themes of the conference, our stimulating speakers, a roundtable discussion on 'Balancing expectations over Higher Education', presentations from 6 the top 50 European University Business Collaboration projects, and opportunities for networking provided a thoughtful, well researched and useful stimuli for delegates. There were two excellent two keynote speakers; Professor Dr David Boud with his wide, international and well informed perspectives on work and learning. Professor Dr Ulf-Daniel Ehlers with his engaging take on future skills needs in a fast changing world where there are constant changes and a need for flexibility. One of the themes that ran through the two days of the conference were discussions about the kinds of knowledge needed for 'work'. Trans or cross disciplinary knowledge rather than disciplinary knowledge by itself were often referred to. 'Problems do not have disciplinary boundaries' said Ulf-Daniel. Rather than the conventional mode 1 disciplinary knowledge, Mode 2 knowledge (Nowotny et al 2003) isconcerned with knowledge that is socially constructed, transcending disciplinary boundaries, reaching beyond inter-disciplinarity and causing a need for university structures to change.
Skill sets for our 'future-ready graduates' involve not only knowledge of facts but also 'a way of being' in the world. Colleagues posed questions such as 'How can this be taught or facilitated or advised?' What pedagogies and curriculum approaches are involved? We had some stunning ideas and examples of the how and the what of these questions.
There were both national and institutional structural difficulties in implementing relevant learning experiences for graduates and for lifelong learners. Both sets of learners were addressed throughout the conference. One structural difficutly mentioned were difficult financial models in Australia and in Germany. The way systems were set up were problems that were also brought up by the Beehives project and Robert Wagenaar's WEXHE project which found work-based learning less developed across a selection of EU countries than we might have hoped - 'The infrastructure to support it is just not there', they said. The notion of partnerships was another cross cutting theme. Many brought up the three way connection between students, universities and businesses (or other non-h.e organisations). Six University Business Collaboration (UBC) best practice case studies reflected some excellent examples. These were drawn from the European Commission's top 50 cases. Clearly there is nowhere near enough practice of this kind going on across the sectors. There are many issues and challenges involved and as Helge from the student union pointed out 'not everything is good'.
Recognition of Prior Learning - there was not a great deal on this topic which is of such significant consequences as experiential learning is key to good understanding of how we work in practice. It was however the subject of one of the papers and was also touched on implicitily quite a lot, for example with discussions about reflective and reflexive practice which would indicate a contemplation on some kind of experience. I was heartened to see that colleagues referred to both their own publications and other literature on our field of interests. A growing and impressive literature is being built up. We were mainly Europe focussed but had a truly international perspective with statistics and in-depth studies from across Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, the U.S and elsewhere. Conference papers and presentations are on the EURASHE website and there will be a special issue of the work-based learning e-journal international.
Colleagues are expanding the field, changing and developing their own practices for both Business and Society. Of course employability is high on the agenda for people in the field of Work and Learning but colleagues were also placing their work sensitively within paid and unpaid work and reflecting the needs of swociety and communities. This is essential for us in this field in meetng diverse needs and that is what this conference clearly signalled.
Director, Work and Learning Research Centre, Middlesex University