A program of cooperative industry based learning in Information Technology currently operates at La Trobe University, Bendigo. In 1995 and 1996 six student places were available with two industry partners. This program is open to students in their third and last year of the Bachelor of Computing.
The University has developed two new subjects that are essentially replacements for subjects that the students would normally undertake in their final year of study. This structure allows students to gain industrial experience and learning as an integral part of their academic course.
In examining the program development, this paper reviews the legal and taxation implications of the Industry Based Learning scholarships, the continuing liaison with industry to develop effective student programs, and the ongoing efforts for industry support, recognition and publicity.
The coordination of the program involves the selection and interview of students for Industry Based Learning and liaising with the industry partners before the student placements commence. Regular contact is maintained with each student and their industry supervisors during the actual industry placement.
An industry sponsored program of Industry Based Learning (IBL) in Information Technology is currently operating at La Trobe University, Bendigo. The IBL program offers the students a tax free scholarship to undertake two blocks of industry based learning as formal subjects towards their degree. The students currently spend one block of twenty weeks at Bendigo Bank and the other twenty weeks with Hitachi Data Systems in Melbourne.
The six annual scholarships were first offered in 1995 for students about to enter their final year of study in either the Bachelor Computing or the double degree Bachelor Business (Accounting) / Computing, at La Trobe University Bendigo.
While the Department of Information Technology had always run a third year, two semester project based subject with many of the project clients being outside the university, the development of a university assessed and coordinated external learning experience was a very new concept.
The initiative for this program was very much generated by the industry partners resulting from contacts with and consultative work by the School of Business at La Trobe Bendigo. The development of the program from the curriculum, funding, legal and taxation viewpoint was undertaken by the university with extensive consultation and verification by the two industry partners involved in the IBL program.
The program was developed with the aim of maximising the benefits for all parties involved. As such it was necessary to examine and maximise the cost benefits for the students, the industry partners and the university.
The IBL program involves the introduction of two new subjects, Industry Based Learning A and Industry Based Learning B into the Bachelor of Computing degree and the combined degree Bachelor of Business (Accounting) and Bachelor of Computing. These two subjects essentially replace four subjects normally undertaken by students in their final year of study in both degree strands. The subjects that are replaced are the third year major projects subjects and two of the Bachelor of Computing electives.
Students who participate and pass these two industry based learning subjects complete four subjects towards their degree. Each of the two IBL subjects is undertaken while the student is placed in industry, and replaces a semester of their course. Students therefore extend their degrees by half a year to three and a half years for the computing students or four and a half years for the accounting/computing double degree students.
A number of students have been keen to undertake subjects while on the IBL program. A decision was made early on that the students must commit themselves fully to this program and that any additional subjects undertaken during the scholarship period may not necessarily be accredited to their course.
One of the fundamental premises in designing the funding structure of the IBL program was that the students would remain students of the university and not become employees of the industry partners. The industries contribute a grant to the university which funds both the scholarships paid to the students on the program and the cost to the university of coordinating the IBL program.
The students pay no university fees while on industry placement but are still liable for HECS fees at a half time student rate. This means that the student is not normally eligible for Austudy during the scholarship year.
As the students are not employees of the industry partners and the university coordinates and assess the students, an opportunity existed to structure a scholarship arrangement for the IBL program.
The Discussion Draft following the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) Draft Ruling TR 94/D13 reflects the views of the Australian Taxation Office in respect of exemption of income from scholarships. In the formulation of our IBL program it was very important to note the ruling discussion of the term ìrendering a serviceî. The distillation of the ruling and our advice from the ATO indicates the following. If it is a condition of the scholarship that the student while located in industry is required to provide, perform or render services for the scholarship providers, the exempt nature of the scholarships may be lost.
The contract signed with the industry partners, the policies of coordination and assessment of students have all been structured to ensure that the student scholarship remains exempt from taxation. As an example the program structure ensures all student reporting for projects undertaken while on placement both in terms of progress and final reporting is back to the university for the purposes of student assessment, but this same student reporting is also made available to the industry partners.
The IBL program is covered by a formal agreement or contract with each of the industry partners. This agreement has been designed to ensure the educational quality of the program for each student, facilitate effective coordination of the program by the university, and to allow comprehensive student assessment. The main legal points of this agreement are as follows:
1. Students on placements shall not be employees of the industry partners.
2. The University shall use its best endeavours to ensure students on placements conform with the industry partnersí regulations and conventions.
3. The industry partners shall have no obligation to employ students who complete the Industry Based Learning Program.
4. And of course the usual indemnity clause - Each of the industry partners having responsibility for supervision of students on placements agree to indemnify the university against any claim arising out of any act or omission of any student whilst on placement with the industry partners other than any acts or omissions caused by the negligence or default of the university.
The students who are eligible for the IBL program are in their penultimate year of study at the university. All eligible students are encouraged to apply because it is an opportunity for students to prepare their resumes and practise their application and interview skills
Students are initially selected by the university on the basis of the written application by the students and their current academic results. A short list of students are interviewed to select sufficient students to fill the IBL placements available. To maintain the quality of the IBL program, and ensure its continued success the agreement has been drafted to allow a lesser number of placements if insufficient students are deemed to be eligible.
The university-selected students undergo an additional verification interview by a selection panel consisting of a representative from the University and each of the industry partners involved. This selection panel makes the final determination as to which students will receive the IBL scholarships.
The University appoints an academic staff member as the IBL Coordinator. This staff member liaises with the industry partners and is responsible for the student assessment and placement. Before each of the student placements commence the IBL coordinator liaises with industry to ensure that the work to be undertaken by each student is appropriate and that supervision arrangements are in place.
Regular contact with each student is maintained through progress reports, and at least monthly workplace visits. It is the IBL coordinatorís role to monitor each student's progress during the placements to ensure that the learning program undertaken by each student is maintained and that each student is progressing satisfactorily. A number of university-specified student assessment tasks require coordination with students and industry supervisors to effectively assess in all aspects of the studentsí participation and progress.
A consequence of the students on placement not being employees is that it is also the responsibility of the IBL coordinator to be fully aware of all aspects of the studentís roles within each industry and ultimately be responsible for the resolution of problems raised by students. Regular workplace visits are essential not only for assessment purposes but also for the monitoring and resolution of problems raised by the students. In reality the coordination role is greatly enhanced by the high calibre of the students involved but it is nevertheless necessary to build solid working relationships with the relevant staff of the industry partners to ensure effective coordination.
At the end of each placement a review of each placement is conducted with feedback from both students and all industry staff involved with the IBL program. This has proved invaluable to raise the profile of the program within the industry. These reviews have also proved an excellent source of material for publicity purposes and have laid the foundation for negotiations to renew and extend individual industryís involvement with the IBL program.
The agreement defines that the industry partners will provide a program of learning to students appropriate to the content of the course but each student's performance is assessed according to University assessment procedures.
About three weeks into each twenty week placement each student is required to submit a preliminary report which clarifies the placement requirements for the students. In reality it forces the student into negotiation with the workplace supervisor to document the learning experience to be undertaken by the student and to identify any early problems.
The students are required to present a final report and presentation to the university on the project(s) they have undertaken for each twenty week industry placement. The format of this report is individually negotiated and is largely determined by the requirements of the project(s) undertaken.
In addition the students are required to maintain some form of work record. While this document often turns into a diary with listings of achievements and goals, it is intended to assist the student to schedule their work, detail procedures and generally assist them in completing their projects.
The studentsí links with the university are further reinforced by the requirement for all students on the IBL program to be involved in presentations, meetings and workshops for future IBL candidates. Also the IBL World Wide Web home page is largely maintained by current IBL students.
As well as university-specified reporting and presentation requirements, students are assessed on all aspects of work participation throughout the industry placement period. Each studentís formal industry placement assessment is conducted between the IBL coordinator and the workplace supervisor. The assessment criteria are generated in conjunction with the students and as appropriate to their placement and project. In general the workplace supervisors provide the feedback of this assessment to the students.
The IBL program is evaluated on a six monthly and yearly basis by means of review meetings between the university and the industry partners. External evaluation of the program via student interviews are also conducted. In addition, the studentsí perceptions and experiences are documented on the IBL home page created by the students.
The IBL study structure allows students with current good academic records to gain industrial experience and learning as an integral part of their academic course. Knowledge of organisations gained through participation in the IBL program allows students to make informed decisions on the direction of a future career as a computing professional.
Students who have participated in this program will have gained knowledge and experience of industry making them attractive to prospective employers. The students who return to complete their final half year of study will, in view of their recent industry experience, be able to confidently contribute and participate in the learning process.
The opportunity for the students to experience two very different industry partners and learning experiences cannot be over emphasised and is one of the main factors that contributes to the success of this program.
The IBL program further enhances and extends the links the La Trobe University, Bendigo already has with industry.
The main challenge for the university is to better market the students who have been recipients of the IBL scholarships. These students are not graduates with no experience, and it could be argued that due to the variety of their experience their IBL experience could count for more. The other challenge is the mid year finish for students who are intent on going into graduate employment programs.
Probably the most consistent view that the students express is that knowledge of organisations gained through participation in the IBL program enables them to make informed decisions on the direction of a future career as a computing professional. The best way to document these students opinions is to quote some of their individual comments while they are on the IBL program. These and further aspects of the IBL program can be accessed on the IBL home page at Latrobe University, Bendigo. (http://ironbark.bendigo.latrobe.edu.au/courses/ibl/industry.html)
Donna Jones: ìLearning by experiencing the real thing is far more effective than listening to theory and not being able to identify with what you have heard. I have learnt a great deal about the work environment, experienced so many new things and been placed in situations which cannot be replicated at university. I have learnt that working as a professional is not beyond me.î
Max Blackmore: ìThe main advantage that I see in participating in IBL is the experience. Very few University graduates can claim to having a yearís full time work in the computing industry behind them.î
Troy Trewin: ìThe IBL experience is invaluable. Even if I decide to follow the accounting side of my degrees, the fact that I have 40 weeks experience in the work force will be a huge advantage over other graduates. I have worked full-time and know how to adapt to the hours and the demands of material deadlines and unavoidable distractions. I have also begun to learn how to work and communicate with my peers and superiors.î
The following comments are by past IBL students who have graduated and are now employed.
Adrian Holland: ìIBL has provided a unique opportunity to get a look at industry and gain some experience before I leave university. Perhaps the biggest thing IBL gave any of us was confidence. Confidence has been invaluable to my growth these past two years, indeed it has been my most valuable asset.î
Mark Green: ìI'm now at the job interview stage and the first thing that employers ask is about IBL. I don't think I would even be getting half the interviews if I didn't have it on my resume. It seems all employers now require some kind of professional experience from graduates. It is no longer just an advantage to do IBL, it is a necessity, in order to put yourself on an equal footing with other graduates.î
Kathryn Abrahams: ìThe main thing that I received out of the IBL program was an increased confidence in my ability and more direction as to where I wanted my career to head. From my experiences I have decided that I am more interested in Computer Consulting as a career.î
The following comments are derived from the review reports that result from the regular review meetings conducted by the university with the industry partners.
Bendigo Bank: The students contributed strong PC skills to a mainframe programming environment and the high competence level of the students enabled them to make positive contributions to strategic projects as part of their learning program.
The chance for Bendigo Bank to task projects that utilise the research facilities of the La Trobe University, Bendigo exposed Bendigo Bank to computer trends and technology outside its main business focus. Bendigo Bank personnel were able to trial low priority but possibly crucial new initiatives and benefit from the student's fresh approach
Hitachi Data Systems: HDS is exposed to computer thinking and technology outside its main business focus. The students reinforced, for HDS, the use of and the current trends in systems software development techniques. HDS was made aware of the ability and potential of inexperienced graduates that are not generally part of its staffing profile.
As the concept for this industry placement program originated from industry itself, one can only assume that there are other industries that also want to become involved in this type of program.
A decision has been made at La Trobe University Bendigo for a limited extension of the program within the Department of Information Technology, but also to extend the program into other degree courses within the University. In attempting to attract new industries to the program we have been assisted by being able to showcase an existing successful program.
After spending nearly a year and a half in search of additional industry partners it definitely appears that there are no shortcuts. The strategy is very much a one of working and doorknocking the existing industry links that exist within the university. This strategy will mean that for 1997 we will have eight and possibly nine industry places. A number of other industries are very interested but not ready to commit at this stage. These identified industries and the re-signing of our original two industry partners represents our industry focus for next year.
The major challenge is to find two industries and the correct mix of two industries that will give our students the most beneficial educational experience, this we believe requires both a local and a metropolitan industry. The second and equally difficult challenge is to sign these industries up for preferably three years so that first year students can target specific industries and the IBL program can be permanently incorporated into our degree offerings.
I believe that there are two main aspects that differentiate this industry based learning program and make it such a sought after experience. Firstly, that the students experience two very different industry environments in the forty weeks. Secondly, the learning experience is structured and assessed to ensure its relevance to the course and the students professional development.
The project outcomes and the feedback from both students and the industry partners over the last two years show that this learning initiative is an overwhelming success for all participants. Improved learning, improved industry contact and the input of new ideas are some of the major benefits for the participating students, Bendigo Bank, Hitachi Data Systems and La Trobe University, Bendigo.
Initial thanks must go to Mr. Rob Hunt the General Manager of Bendigo Bank and Mr. Peter Delmans the then Regional Manager of Hitachi Data Systems both of whom initiated the IBL program and had the confidence to foresee its success.
Vicky Kelly the Chief Manager of Information Systems at Bendigo Bank who gave of her considerable experience to ensure the IBL programís initial and continued success. Moira Holmes the Regional Director of Human Resources for HDS who has supported the IBL program with all her resources. Finally all the workplace supervisors and not least the students who have ensured the success of the program.
Wolfgang Effenberg (c) 1996. The author assigns to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 96 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author