Flexibility key for students to gain work experience

This post was contributed by Jonah Duffin, Head of Marketing and Recruitment.

Gaining work experience during your studies is as important as getting a 2:1 or first-class degree nowadays. This was the finding of High Fliers Research Ltd’s survey of the job prospects for the class of 2013.

For years now, universities and students have been waking up to this fact, with ‘sandwich’ courses offered at most UK institutions and students spending their holidays honing their professional skills in sought-after internships. However, in an ever more competitive job market, increasing numbers of students are opting for more flexible options which enable them to seize every opportunity to get the work experience which will set them in good stead for their careers when they graduate.

At Birkbeck students study in the evenings, which means that they are able to combine their study with work during the daytime. Our part-time undergraduate degrees, which are typically completed by evening study over four years, provide the opportunity to access higher education for those who are already in work and careers and  have families to support, mortgages to pay, and were unable to afford to stop working (or didn’t want to stall their careers) while studying to gain a university qualification.

Over the last three years, however, we have begun to see a slight shift in our student demographic as those at the very start of their careers recognise the benefits of being able to gain a highly respected degree and work experience at the same time. We began offering our degrees in an intensive format, so that they could be completed in three years, like a traditional degree, yet still taught in the evenings.  We began by offering just three programmes in this format, but they have proved enormously popular and this year we will be offering 40 courses as three-year accelerated programmes.

We are seeing growing numbers of younger students applying for these courses, and time and again they tell us that what attracts them is the flexibility to be able to work or complete internships during the day. When surveyed 66 per cent of first year students on these courses said that the flexibility of the degree programme was an important factor in their decision to enrol at Birkbeck.

This flexibility sees some students choosing to work full-time throughout the period of their degrees. They graduate with three solid years of work experience under their belts, and are often already on a permanent contract in their chosen field. 45 per cent of respondents to a survey of our first year students on three-year programmes are working full- or part-time alongside their studies. Research has shown that these students are likely to see the benefits of their study kick in even before they have graduated. Nearly 30 per cent of students are awarded a pay increase and 28 per cent receive a promotion while studying part-time, according to Futuretrack: Part-time Students – a report co-written by Birkbeck’s Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education Policy. The study also documents dramatic improvements to personal development and self-confidence.

Taking this a step further, Birkbeck’s innovative collaboration with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is enabling students to combine work and study to gain both the professional ACA qualification and a BSc Applied Accounting and Business degree at the same time. Students complete their studies not only with an internationally-recognised academic degree and valuable work experience, but also with professional qualifications, which would usually have required further study after graduation.

Other students choose to undertake internships during their degree, but the flexibility of evening study means that they are not restricted to taking up these opportunities during the university holidays when competition for places is highest, but can work on projects and internships throughout the year.

Although the High Fliers survey shows that there are likely to be 2.7% more graduate vacancies this year, graduates will continue to look for ways to set themselves apart from the crowd, and professional work experience always complements a good degree. At Birkbeck, we believe that demand for flexible study is only going to increase, and we will continue to play our part as this trend evolves.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *