I gave a talk today at the PSA/BISA 5th annual Learning and Teaching Conference, held at the Wilberforce Institute in Hull. I was speaking on ‘Experience-based learning: The three I’s of Westminster placements’. The Hull Westminster placement scheme has now been running for a quarter of a century – I see an anniversary celebration looming – and what I covered was the benefit derived by students from the scheme, in terms of knowledge, skills and personal development, and the three I’s essential to the success of the scheme: integration, induction, and investment.
A placement scheme needs to be integrated into the degree programme, with students utilising their campus-based scholarship to make sense of their Westminster experience and drawing on their roles as participant-observers to feed into their studies while on placement. There has to be a process of induction, both in terms of substantive knowledge of the institution, and its place within the polity, and of process (knowing what to do and what is expected, getting to know the institution), which continues while on placement. And there has to be an investment of resources, both in terms of academic and support staff, in order to ensure that the scheme works effectively.
Getting the process right is a demanding exercise, given that one is seeking to meet the needs of students, the university, the placement providers (parliamentarians) and funders (the student loan company). After a quarter of a century, I think we have more or less got it right, but there’s always room for improvement.
When I first placed students, there were three. This semester, there will be thirty-five.