Image Credit: University of Edinburgh

This post originally appeared as a case study in the Higher Education Academy report ‘A pilot study: strengthening university business engagement through staff secondments‘.

As part of the Edinburgh Connections project, which offers staff the opportunity to participate in a work based placement (WBP) with external organisations, I took a work placement with Challenges Worldwide to understand the processes they use when placing students into UK WBPs. 

Aims and objectives

“I now have a wider breadth of knowledge that can be used to improve the student experience on projects.”

To understand the process that Challenges Worldwide use in the selection, running and evaluation of international student projects. The hope was to share best practices in order that students undertaking a work-based project could have a full and coherent package of care. Activity Prior to placement we had an introductory Skype session and also a visit from my Challenges key contact to my Department/School where we discussed what we do and what Challenges does.

Following this, over the course of three weeks I spent three days with Challenges looking at their processes and sharing best practices. The first day was spent sharing best practices and processes from challenges and my department/school that surround WBPs, such as academic quality, placement procedures and the dissertation element of Masters projects. The second day was used to review materials that were used to engage students and facilitate the process (such as field research project outlines, application forms and memorandum of understanding). The third day I sat in on their selection process to gain a better understanding of how they choose a student for an international placement.


My School/Department will be looking at ways to improve the student transition into an international project. This will involve pre-departure preparation training workshops for students that will include input from the schools academics and from Challenges Worldwide in the next academic year. In addition, when students return from their project we will look at providing support by facilitating reflection of their experience. Challenges have asked that in the future they would like to understand the actual dissertation that students would undertake and have asked to be allowed to view these, i.e. academic input/awareness.


“The first day was spent sharing best practices and processes.”

We will be looking to improve in the next academic year our package of care for our students taking an international placement; both pre and post project. We will be also considering how this learning can relate to our field work sessions that are a key element to the curriculum of many programmes within Geosciences. Challenges have expressed that this experience has been extremely valuable to them and they now have greater insight in to the workings of academia, academics and students. The placement has had a personal impact on role, I now have a wider breadth of knowledge that can be used to improve the student experience on projects.

Next steps

As mentioned above we will be looking to improve our package of care for international projects next academic year and implement a framework of support. I have been invited by Challenges to receive their training package for student selectors.

Olivia Eadie is Programme Team Leader in the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh


Quality Placements is a NCUB Talent project that promotes student placements, internships and work experience that benefit learners, universities and businesses. NCUB research aims to understand the range of work experience activity across the UK and identify the features of a quality work placement, including the Quality Placements Online Report and a study of Computer Science placements for BIS. 

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