Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-22, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 20 January, 2022 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2022.


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Work experience

core definition

Work experience is the linking of a period of activity in a work setting (whether paid or voluntary) to the programme of study, irrespective of whether the work experience is an integral part of the programme of study.

explanatory context

Types of work experience

Work experience can take a variety of forms ranging from traditional placements (internships, co-operative study), through ‘live’ project work, to part-time employment. Three main categories of work experience can be identified (Harvey et al. 1998; Little et al. 2001; Harvey et al., 2002):

·        organised work experience as part of a  programme of study;

·        organised work experience external to a  programme of study;

·        ad hoc work experience external to a  programme of study.


There is some overlap between categories. Voluntary work, for example, can sometimes be accredited by institutions, is sometimes organised as external to the programme of study, or may be ad hoc work undertaken by students.

Organised work experience as part of a programme of study

There are three main variants of work experience as part of a programme of study. 

First, a conventional programme with some work experience element attached to it, either as an  optional or a compulsory component; this includes:

·        traditional placements on sandwich courses;

·        short periods of work experience on non-sandwich programmes;

·         clinical or practice placements on some  professional degrees;

·        ‘live’ project working: collaboration between  students and employers;

·        work shadowing. 

The work done may or may not be directly assessed towards a final award. Sandwich/internship placements are still taken as the paradigm for work experience, although relatively few students are enrolled on them. In the UK in 1999 about 17.5 , per cent of the total full-time undergraduate population were engaged on thick ot thin sandwich or non-sandwich programmes. 


Second, generic work experience modules that are  available to students on a range of  programmes, these include:

·        year-long placements unconnected to a specific programme;

·        credit for part-time, term-time or vacation  work;

·        credit for voluntary (unpaid) work;

·        programmes developed by student unions for  elected officers. 

Generic modules are often assessed and count towards the final award. They may also attract separate accreditation. University of Wales, Aberystwyth has run the generic Year in Employment scheme for over 20 years, an option taken up by five per cent of students.


Third, work experience through a programme that is wholly, or predominantly, delivered in the workplace setting. This may include a professional learning, for example continuing professional development (CPD), graduate apprenticeships or accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL).


Organised work experience external to a programme of study

Students also undertake organised work experience external to the programme of study. There are a range of such opportunities including national programmes such as CRAC Insight Plus (2002) and STEP (2002) in the UK, work experience arranged by the International Association for Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE as well as various volunteering activities on a national or international scale.


Ad hoc work experience external to a programme of study

Increasingly, students obtain work experience through casual, part-time or vacation work, or for part-time students, through their own full-time employment or other activities. Recent surveys show, for example that that about 60 per cent of UK full-time students worked during term-time and over 80 per cent of full-time students worked over the summer vacation. Traditionally, part-time working during term-time was seen as ‘interfering’ with academic work. Now, most British universities run job clubs for students. In some places, learning from part-time work is being taken more seriously and given credit.

analytical review

E-skills UK 2004, define it as:

Work experience is a period of temporary student employment, within a framework of learning objectives and assessment, in which the student takes control of the learning experiences.


The National Council for Work Experience has the same definition, for what it describes as ‘quality work experience’ but appends the following:

The following items represent a comprehensive definition of quality work experience:

·        the student is trained by the higher education institution (HEI) to identify potential learning outcomes

·        objectives are set (by HEI, employer and student)

·        supervision is by a supervisor trained in the objectives and learning outcomes of work experience - academic supervision and visit/s take place

·        regular feedback is given

·        an appraisal is given during the work experience and at the end

·        where appropriate, a project is undertaken

·        learning and achievements are articulated by the student in written form

·        an assessment is made, including an assessment of development of skills (by HEI, employer and student)

·        recognition, credit or a certificate is awarded

·        This ideal will not be possible for all undergraduate work experience, for example in part time term time bar work. The minimum that could be included within the title of "quality" will include:

·        objectives are set (by the student)

·        feedback is given

·        appraisal is undertaken at the end of the experience

·        learning and achievements are articulated by the student in written form

·        an assessment is made of skills development (by student) with employer endorsement

associated issues

As Alison Blackwell et al. (2000) summed up:

The claims that are made for work experience, whether as a part of the school or higher education curriculum can be summarised under the following headings:

  1. Changing teachers’ attitudes. Work experience arrangements should symbolise that the world of work is something to be taken seriously. It is also hoped that workplace concerns will ‘rub off’ on some teachers.
  2. A more relevant curriculum. Work experience might influence the curriculum in two ways. Directly, because it becomes a part of the curriculum, which, if nothing else, is a symbol that the world of work is a legitimate part of learning. More directly still, as when the work experience contributes towards summative assessment. And indirectly, where the world of work ‘leaks’ into other parts of the curriculum, so that there is more sensitivity throughout a programme to the development of those qualities and skills that employers seek in new hires.
  3. Informing employers. Involvement in work experience schemes can make employers more aware of what higher education does and of the circumstances under which it operates.
  4. An employability signal.On-the-job learning can be seen as intrinsically valuable by employers, who often seek evidence of it during recruitment in the belief that a range of workplace experiences will better equip graduates for the flexible workplace of the future (Harvey et al, 1998).
  5. Motivating learners to achieve higher grades. This can be seen in terms of a ‘pull’ and a ‘push’. The pull is where work experience gives the learner a career direction, which can enhance the motivation to get the necessary grades. The push was frequently seen by one of us who used to run a school-based work experience scheme. After a week on work placement, a noticeable minority of students said something like: ‘I’m really going to study for my exams now, 'cos I know if I don’t get them, then that’s [the work experience job] what I’m going to end up doing’.


It might also be claimed that work experience has an important place in the development of students as lifelong learners. It can establish the idea that the workplace is an important site for the life-long learning which is increasingly identified as a key to the well-being of a knowledge-based, high-skill, flexible economy.  In sum, work experience can be seen as a ‘missing ingredient’ in undergraduate education, which is certainly the perspective of employers (Harvey et al, 1997). This paper addresses the impact of work experience upon student learning and employability and notices some curriculum implications that need attention if its potential as a component of transformative learning is to be realised.


related areas

See also


co-operative education

work-based learning

work-related learning


Blackwell, A. Bowes, L., Harvey, L., Hesketh A.J. and Knight, P., 2000, 'Transforming Work Experience in Higher Education', British Educational Research Journal, 27(3), 269–85, pdf version available here.
UK, 2004, Work Experience,, page not available at this address 4 February 2011.

Harvey, L., Geall, V. and Moon, S. with Aston, J.,  Bowes, L. and Blackwell, A., 1998, Work  Experience: Expanding opportunities for  undergraduates. Centre for Research into  Quality (CRQ), Birmingham. Available here (a substantial document that takes a few seconds to download).

Harvey, L., Moon, S. and Geall, V with Bower, R., 1997, Graduates’ Work: Organisation change and students’ attributes. Birmingham, Centre for Research into Quality (CRQ) and Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

Harvey, L. and Locke, W. with Morey, A., 2002, Enhancing employability, recognising diversity: Making links between higher education and the world of work. London, Universities UK . Available here.

Little, B., Moon, S., Pierce, D., Harvey, L. and  Marlow-Hayne, N., 2001, Nature and Extent of  Undergraduates' Work Experience.  CIHE/DFES, London.

National Council for Work Experience (NCWE), 2004, Welcome to the National Council for Work Experience, What is work experience?!eaLedi, page not available at this address 4 February 2011.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2022

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