Curtin Student Guild has made a submission to the Australian Universities Accord to ensure students are ‘equitably remunerated’ for the hours they are engaging in their unpaid work placement.
Also known as work-integrated learning, work placement provides students with an opportunity to develop industry skills by practically applying their knowledge in a workplace setting.
Although work-integrated learning differs between various degrees, students are typically required to engage in 100 to 150 hours of unpaid work placement.
Under the current Fair Work Ombudsman students are not entitled to pay for their work placement.
“Placements have served as a form of severe financial burden and stress for many students,” the submission reads.
“Recent cost of living increases have put pressure on students to increase the amount of paid work on top of their university work. Unpaid practical placements make this situation worse as many students have to reduce or cease their casual employment to accommodate their WIL [work-integrated learning] hours.”
Curtin Student Guild Vice President of Education Veronika Gobba says it is difficult to expect students to sacrifice ‘hundreds of hours’ of paid employment in exchange for unpaid industry work.
“Usually what happens is students either forgo their paid work just so they can do their unpaid pracs, but they often get to a point where they almost fall into poverty so some have to quit their prac,” she says.
“[Other students] overload their work integrated unpaid learning with their current paid work … so what happens is you get unproductive experiences or they drop out because it’s unsustainable and leads to complete burn out.”
Last month six Australian universities, including RMIT and Charles Darwin University, called on the Federal Government to ensure university students engaged in paid industry work.
According to The Daily Aus, the submission proposed a ‘learn-and-earn’ strategy, meaning university students are provided the opportunity to gain industry skills and earn an income whilst studying.
“It’s targeted at improving and accelerating transitions into the workforce, and lowering financial barriers to higher education,” TDA says.
Although Gobba says federal ministers are ‘open to a conversation’ she is unsure whether changes to unpaid placements will be made soon.
“I wouldn’t hold my breathe … realistically this is something that is going to be led by the government and they’re going to have to work with universities and employees,” Gobba says.
“A good thing to do would be to establish some sort of stipend or bursary that matches up with the minimum wage to give to students if they’re engaging in unpaid work integrated learning.”