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Work Placement Horror Stories Continue to Widen Student Poverty

Results from La Trobe Student Union’s (LTSU) Student Placement Poverty report (14 December 2023), continue to paint a troubling picture of life on a student work placement.

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Results from La Trobe Student Union’s (LTSU) Student Placement Poverty report (14 December 2023), continue to paint a troubling picture of life on a student work placement.

Of those La Trobe University students who responded to the LTSU’s survey, 52% said they had experienced difficulties in paying for essential items like rent, food and medicines while on placement. 16% said they experienced accommodation issues because of their work placement. 48% of students reported they had a lack of work like balance, and 40% said they did not have enough time to study.

It is clear from the LTSU’s research findings that financial support is the most challenging issue for students on work placement. For a student travelling to work placement via public transport for example, they are required to pay a $10 full fee fare or a $5 concession fare. For a social work student conducting 500 hours of work placement a year, travelling five days a week is either a cost of $700 for a full fare or $350 for a concession. One student said “Placement isn’t paid so I could barely afford to pay rent. I couldn’t work for weeks, so I lost all my shifts and income”.

Addressing student feedback, the LTSU looked at four areas of concern for their members and students on work placement:

  1. Students’ preparedness and orientation
  2. Students’ experience
  3. Students’ learning opportunities
  4. Support and supervision given to students

Research also found that students were given limited notice about their work placement significantly raising anxiety. Most students were given just one to three weeks’ notice of their placement. 29% of student respondents reported they  were not give them enough time to make arrangements such as child care and work.10% of students were given less than one week’s notice.

Students further reported they were not satisfied with La Trobe University’s communication with them, as well as La Trobe’s wider co-ordination of work placements. Students noted the university were slow to respond to their requests, didn’t understand student life or the challenge of students adapting to the workplace. Such issues were reported as significantly affecting students’ mental health and wellbeing. Students additionally reported that placement had an unreasonable impact on their wider responsibilities such as caring, education and their studies.

Worryingly, nearly 35% of students were asked to do something without supervision in the workplace.

The LTSU’s Student Placement Poverty report offers seven recommendations where La Trobe University can improve work placements and make a difference to students.  More widely, the recommendations can also act as a template for other universities. The recommendations are:

  1. Funding. For all student placements to be fully funded and salaried as for any other job or trade.
  2. La Trobe University students at the heart of La Trobe’s planning. La Trobe University’s students and the LTSU must be at the planning, process design, delivery and evaluation of placement programmes.
  3. Orientation. La Trobe University must provide every student on work placement with an orientation pack with information about work placements such as actions and duties students are expected to complete.
  4. Placement notice. Students must be given a minimum of eight weeks’ notice of a placement.
  5. Placement location. La Trobe University must provide a guarantee that students are not expected to travel further than one hour from their home to complete the work placement.
  6. La Trobe’s placement team.  Students’ work placement issues are responded to by the relevant La Trobe University party within one business day if not sooner.
  7. Placement supervisors. The university must audit placement supervisors to ensure their training, standards and management is uniform across study areas and placement organisations.

Read our full report here.