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Research project: Working with employers to develop and deliver a needs-led curriculum: a work-based pilot in health, education and care

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The main purpose of the project is to develop a deeper understanding of how the University works with different types of employer to develop innovative curricula and work based learning (WBL) approaches which meet the needs of learners and employers, while maintaining high quality educational standards.

The aims are to:

  • To develop a robust module of employer led work-based learning to be entirely delivered in the workplace.
  • To investigate the features of the work place that enable or inhibit wholly work based learning.
  • To investigate the scalability and transferability of the model.
  • To explore the infrastructure and processes within the university and their ability to support work based learning.
  • To evaluate the experiences of the process from the view of all stakeholders (students, employers, university).


When two very different local employers, each seconding groups of seven or eight employees to the Fd H&SC, approached the programme lead, discussions revealed a shared commitment to an innovative and collaborative approach to the employees' / students' learning experiences at work. (‘Fairways' is a small, private provider of care and education for children and young people excluded from mainstream services and Southampton University Hospital Trust (SUHT) is a major health care provider). In particular, both employers wanted to be more involved in their employees' education and independently requested greater use of the workplace as a source of learning. Not only staff with expertise, but opportunities for new experiences, well-resourced environments and up-to-date facilities were cited as excellent resources, evidenced by impressive track records in both organisations of structured, in-house and external training and staff development schemes. Both wanted staff to be critical thinkers, self aware and able to reflect upon events and their own contribution, not unlike the components of employability described by Yorke and Knight (2004).

The project has been scoped with both employers and is intended to introduce a new Level 2 module, developed in collaboration, which is delivered wholly in the workplace (unlike existing WBL modules where work place learning is supported by structured, reflective classroom-based sessions). The module that will be used is the second in a strand of three WBL modules spanning the entire academic year. Although the outcome and project ‘shape' has been agreed, the wish of all partners is to work together, including the seconded students, conceptualising and developing how learning in the work place can best develop thinking, writing and researching skills as well as practical and interpersonal abilities. Expertise and international repute in work place learning is available through the School of Education, as well as existing and respected relationships with the employers who are keen to maintain the focus upon health, care and education.


Project team

 Wintrup, J., Foskett, R., Esser, A., McHugh, M., Meyer, E


Project funder

University of Southampton Learning and Teaching Enhancement Funds

Associated research themes

Workforce development


Work Futures Research Centre


Related research groups

Conferences and events associated with this project:

Wintrup, J., Meyer, E. & James, L. When Higher Education takes place in the workplace: curriculum development with students, employers and academics. 2nd International Conference Education, Economy and Society, Paris, 21 - 24/7/10
This paper asks, does a collaborative approach to curriculum development enhance the experience of students and their employers?
An urgent need to improve the education of health and care staff was recognised by government (DH, 2006) and reinforced by economic imperatives (Leitch, 2006). Yet care providers frequently struggle to release staff from work duties. In the UK, a work based Foundation degree was introduced to enable learners to integrate study with their work roles, as an alternative to traditional degree programmes (HEFCE, 2000).
A small, funded project brought together students from very different settings, their employers and academics to develop work-based modules. The overarching aim was to develop a deeper understanding of each others' needs and expectations in order to agree principles and processes. A democratic, action-learning methodology enabled learning to be captured and shared, and used to influence practice.
Early findings suggest:

  • unstated aims (of students, employers or academics) can lead to tensions and impede progress
  • different discourses, if not explored and explained, can create misunderstandings and misplaced expectations
  • a high level of confidence in work settings contrasts with feelings of uncertainty and doubt in the student role, which is frequently unspoken or hidden from employers

DH (2006) Our health, Our care, Our say: a New Direction for Community Services, January 2006. 8.46, 8.47
HEFCE (2000) Foundation Degree Prospectus. Bristol: HEFCE
Leitch, S. (2006) Leitch Review of Skills: Prosperity for all in the Global Economy - World Class Skills. Final Report. Norwich: HMSO

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