Today my case study article for is published in the journal Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning. The article, ‘Work-based learning for the creative industries: A case study of the development of BA (Hons) web design and social media’, highlights the knowledge and insight gained building a work-based learning (WBL) degree apprenticeship developed through the Higher Education Funding Council for England Catalyst Fund.
In the summer of 2014 Ravensbourne, a UK university sector institution specialising in the fields of design and digital media, was invited by Creative Skillset to explore the development of a work-based learning (WBL) degree through the HEFCE Catalyst Fund. Requirements of the funding stipulated that, in addition to WBL provision, the course should be offered as a two-year fast-track. This was required to help reduce the increased financial burden placed on students, which arose from the substantial rise in HE tuition fees sanctioned by the UK coalition government in 2010. Subsequently, the newly elected Conservative government have pledged to substantially increase the number of apprenticeships in UK. This has placed a greater emphasis on the Higher Apprenticeship programme and need to develop WBL programmes.
The development and composition of Ravensbourne’s WBL model was adapted from an existing and successful three-year, traditionally structured, BA (Hons.) Web Media Production course. It adopted a model whereby partnerships between external organisations and educational institutions are established through a contractual agreement (Boud and Solomon, 2001). Throughout the development process this WBL model of learning was revealed to be appealing to both employers and students within this sector. From the employers’ perspective, it also provides them with an appropriately skilled workforce that addresses the technical and digital skills gap, one of the most challenging areas of recruitment, enabling them to use “work-based degrees to ‘upskill’ and meet shortages in [their] companies and/or sectors” (Guile and Evans, 2010:15). From a students’ standpoint the advantages were obvious; they can learn their chosen subject while gaining industry experience in the workplace and earning a salary. It also enables them to produce a graduation portfolio of work that includes ‘real life’ projects.
However, while these responses were encouraging, a number of practical issues and academic challenges occurred that needed careful scrutiny. The growth of the web industry, while rapid, is still embryonic. Consequently many employers, particularly in social media, remained small entities, many capable of only employing one student. This caused several accumulative and administrative issues. There were also concerns over the ‘cannibalisation’ of traditional courses and challenges relating to the combining of a work-based learning model within a two-year fast track.
Therefore, this paper presents a case study detailing the insight and knowledge gained throughout this process of exploration. Alongside the advantages and pitfalls of integrating WBL into fledgling but rapidly expanding disciplines, such as web media production and social media, it provides recommendations for the development of WBL in creative and vocationally orientated subjects relating to content creation and digital media practices. These are crucial areas for expansion as higher-level degree apprenticeships are rolled out in the UK.