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Desk Study: Mapping of Work-based Learning in Peace, Conflict and Security Studies (O1)

Duration: 11/2020-05/2022
Work Package Leader: Utrecht
Team: Chris van der Borgh (Utrecht), Luuk Slooter (Utrecht), Sára Vértes (Utrecht), Lena Runge (Marburg), Stéphane Voell (Marburg), Thorsten Bonacker (Marburg).

The first Intellectual Output (O1) is the basis for all further work in INCOPS. The tangible output is a report (see below), which explores the potential benefits of Work-based Learning (WBL) for Peace, Conflict, and Security Studies (PCS) and how the concept of WBL has been used in PCS so far. The desk study of O1 aimed to lay grounds for the project by providing the conceptual base and by investigating forms of WBL within Europe. The leadership of O1 had been taken over by Utrecht, who also organised the Kick-off Meeting (M1) and the Learning, Teaching and Training Activity (C1). All other project partners cooperated in the survey, in the discussion of the results and in the review of the report.

In preparation for the application, the consortium has already discussed its needs and experiences and identified the need for more knowledge and a tailored approach for PCS. As a first work package, the consortium continued this preparatory work to develop a coherent overview and common understanding of WBL, its strengths and potential benefits for PCS. O1 consisted of three parts.

  • First, a desk study focused on the framework of WBL by structurally reviewing existing literature, developing a coherent overview of models and a shared understanding of WBL, its strengths and potential benefits for PCS mapping WBL.
  • Secondly, O1 examined PCS programmes in Europe to identify existing models and modules for integrating WBL in the curriculum. Parallel to assessing the available academic knowledge on WBL, we decided to empirically explore all PCS-related study programmes within the EU whose programme/curriculum descriptions we could find online. A database was assembled in which we catalogued 97 programmes.
  • Thirdly, a Qualitative Survey explores different practises and experiences that relate to WBL activities and the institutional settings and guidelines that exist in PCS already. From the database, we selected 15 programmes to contact outside the consortium aiming for a sample that is as representative of all regions in Europe as possible. In this second phase of our data collection, we designed a survey that we distributed to both the members of our INCOPS consortium, as well as the 15 selected programmes that we intended to sample.

One of the most significant discoveries that the Qualitative Survey process brought was the frequency with which the scrutinised programmes associated WBL with internships, although the programmes offered concurrently other forms of practical experience that could be conceptualised under WBL. It is the concept “internship”, which is loaded with a multitude of meanings and understandings, making it an umbrella term, which arches over vastly diverse practises. Moreover, various contextual factors influence the explicit WBL design as they accentuate the particular course of the study and certain learning outcomes.

Among those factors are, for instance, the duration of the programme, the specific character of the Higher Education Institution, the integration of WBL in thesis requirements, or the integration of mature students as well. Furthermore, with regard to integration of WBL in PCS, another main emphasis in both the academic literature and the Qualitative Survey is placed on assistance and assessment. The former determines the type and depth of guidance provided by the university regarding WBL activities dispensed to students prior, during and/or after the WBL module.

The variety in regulations impacts for example the extent of supervision and mentoring or the possible material support like funding, but also other forms of support like information about and contacts to possible hosting organisations. The latter emphasis ranges between a great flexibility in formally recognising and accrediting WBL experiences on the one hand, and a challenge of standardisation concerning learning outcomes that likewise raises issues around fairness on the other hand.

  • Report

    In recent years, the incorporation of practical experiences into university curricula increasingly became a standard across various disciplines and study programmes. Likewise, in the field of Peace, Conflict and Security Studies (PCS) both scholars and employers have stressed the necessity for a closer integration of academic skills with practical experience. The project ‘Integration of Work-based Learning in Conflict, Peace and Security Studies’ primarily aims to strengthen the structural integration of practical skill development in MA level curricula of higher education institutions in Europe. Therefore, this report lays grounds for the project by analysing potential benefits of Workbased Learning (WBL) for the field, by providing a conceptual base and by both quantitatively and qualitatively investigating forms of WBL within Europe that have been used in PCS so far.

    For the research, we scrutinised the six project members’ programmes in PCS and collected insights from eight additional institutes engaged in peace, conflict and security education. The Qualitative Survey and the analysis of its results mainly focused on the diversity of WBL activities, the operationalisation and integration of WBL experience into the curriculum, as well as the (institutional) assistance and assessment of WBL modules. The project’s ‘working definition’ of WBL summarises common points extracted from the inspected academic literature and debates within the project’s consortium to align all project partners’ understanding of the WBL practices.

    WBL is defined as: An approach in higher education, which aims to merge theory and practice. It entails students working in or with organisations in the field, gaining practical experience, while utilising and reflecting on their academic skills. Secondly, it yields an increase in educational resources, new impressions, networks, innovative ideas and critical reflection on the applicability of learnt theories. In addition, WBL brings together different stakeholders such as teachers, students and professional organisations.

    Runge, L., and S. Vértes (2021) Mapping Work-based Learning in Peace and Security Studies. INCOPS Report #1.

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