AUT University obtains significant competitive advantage from Work-Integrated Learning
This case study describes the advantages of Work-Integrated Learning to the Sports and Recreation degree at AUT University.
- Cooperative Education at the School of Sport and Recreation at AUT University
- Benefits of Cooperative Education for AUT University
Jenny Fleming from the School of Sport and Recreation at AUT University, is the Cooperative Education coordinator for the Bachelor of Sport and Recreation (BSR) and Bachelor of Dance (BDance) degrees.
She is passionate about Cooperative Education (Coop) / Work-Integrated learning (WIL). She serves this community by being deputy chair of NZACE, and on the editorial board of the Asia Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education. Jenny is also a firm believer in the benefits of Cooperative Education to AUT.
The AUT sports and recreation cooperative education programme contributes significantly to sport and recreation education. The third year BSR and BDance students spend two days a week during the academic year within one organisation. During this time the students also undertake a project that is beneficial to the organisation. The work placements are truly integrated into the degree structure as the students are concurrently undertaking papers back on campus.
Sports and recreation studies are offered by other tertiary intuitions in the greater Auckland region. Therefore AUT is competing for students, research and funding. Cooperative education / WIL is a key distinction that adds value to the students, employers and the university and sets AUT apart from its competitors.
The benefits, and hence competitive advantages to AUT fall into three general areas:
Point of differentiation
As mentioned above, there are other tertiary institutions in NZ that offer sport and recreation studies. More importantly there are others in the Auckland region offering Bachelor degrees in sport. This means that AUT University must compete directly for prospective students. However, a key difference between AUT and other Auckland institutions is the extensive cooperative education component undertaken during the final year.
It is common to have the sport and recreation students undertaking their coop within secondary schools, working as part of the sports or dance departments, assisting within PE programs, or undertaking coaching roles. Having coop students out in secondary schools raises the profile of AUT and the sports and recreation degrees. The third year students act as ambassadors for the program, helping raise the profile of the degrees, with the target audience of school leavers.
Increase marketing to mature students
Sports and recreation degrees are relatively new on the scene, having come of age in the last 10-15 years. Therefore, there are a significant number of people within sport and recreations industry who are experienced but do not have a formal qualification. Through the relationships that AUT University develops through their coop students in the industry, there are opportunities for the organisation to profile what it can offer to the target market of experienced recreation personnel.
In addition to the BSR, AUT offers a Graduate Diploma in Sports and Exercise. This is designed with mature students in mind. It is a one-year diploma designed for people who have significant experience working within the industry. Other options for sport and recreation professionals include postgraduate studies with Post Graduate Diplomas, Masters of Health Science, Masters of Business and Doctoral programmes.
Coop students are largely responsible for finding their own placement however, the university facilitates this process. In some situations this results in students finding placements with organisations and staff that the university has not had a previous relationship with. This results in new relationships being formed.
Not only does this raise the profile of AUT and the sports and recreation programme, but also adds the benefit of connecting people in the industry back to AUT. Through these connections AUT is able to grow their circle of influence. One positive advantage is that AUT students in the following years have a wider network of organisations that they can draw upon for their placements.
Other positive spin offs from this are:
Collaborative research opportunities
As the lecturers are being connected to new people in the industry, and strengthening already existing relationships, this increases the probability of collaborative research projects.
As the lecturers visit the students in industry, the interaction with industry supervisors and other staff helps the lecturers stay current and abreast of the changes occurring. This is especially important in sport and recreation, which is very dynamic. Therefore AUT is able to respond to ensure that a highly relevant curriculum is offered within BSR and BDance programmes.
Increased profile within sport and recreation industry
AUT graduates have enhanced employment opportunities due to the cooperative education program. This results in organisations often approaching AUT directly for graduates to fill vacancies. Also, it is common for the student to be offered full time employment at the end of the year, once their placement has been completed. Clearly, having graduates being head hunted or proactively being offered jobs at the end of their degree is a fantastic result for AUT.
Increased motivation to learn
Students in their third year, who have placements two days each week, often indicate an increased motivation to learn. Students have commented that they can apply their workplace learning back into classroom discussions and can then link the theory with practice. Students can also apply what they are learning in the classroom directly into the work environment.
Coach junior sports and volunteer for events
Some of the students, as part of their cooperative education program, undertake activities such as coaching of junior sports or working on specific events in the community that aim to increasing physical activity participation.
Most of these activities rely heavily on the use of volunteers. Through enabling these roles to be undertaken within their coop placements, AUT University and the students themselves are able to make a valuable contribution to the community by assisting in providing opportunities to increase participation in sport and recreation.
In addition, through these community activities students have opportunities to improve skills in these areas as well as highlighting their own capabilities, which further helps to increase the reputation of the graduates.
Add to teaching practical skills
Certain papers within the BSR actively use environments outside the classroom to maximise student learning depending on the time and resources available. However, some students have coop placements where they are spending significant time involved in outdoor activities, for example: caving and rock climbing. This increases the specific practical skill sets of those students. Practical experience of this type develops more experienced graduates, which in turn increases the reputation of the degree in the market place.
The AUT University sports and recreation students obtain significant benefits from the coop / WIL component of the degree. As you can see, it has been a very worthwhile investment to include WIL in the degree, resulting in beneficial outcomes for all parties - tangible and intangible.