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MDX joint top institution globally for work-based learning research, study finds

MDX's Professor Carol Costley and visiting academic Dr Stan Lester identified among four experts globally with the highest number of citations in the field

Middlesex University has been identified as the main institution - alongside research-intensive Monash University in Australia - producing knowledge on work-based learning in a recent Worldwide Bibliometric of Work-Based Learning Research.

The paper, published online in Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning , focuses on highly-rated research and the reach of work-based learning research networks, rather than overall quantity of research.

Professor of Work and Learning Carol Costley, Director of MDX’s Work and Learning Research Centre, and Dr Stan Lester, an independent researcher who for many years has been a visiting academic at MDX, are identified among four experts with the highest number of citations in the field.

The UK has more than 48% of the total high rated publications covered by the study, followed by Australia (15.1%) and the US (11%), although work-based learning increasingly has global reach with a number of European countries generating and publishing knowledge in the field. (Professor Carol Costley is currently engaged with others in drafting a Work-Based Learning Principles guide for the European Commission). There is much research involvement also in countries such as Brazil and Malaysia.

MDX has run work-based learning programmes for employees at local and community enterprises such as inclusive theatre company Chickenshed

MDX Vice-Chancellor Professor Nic Beech says: “I am particularly delighted to see Middlesex’s pre-eminent position in the field of work-based learning research over 30 years recognised. Middlesex has a proud tradition of impactful, practice-oriented research, and has grown as a centre of work-based learning and teaching over the same period.

“Being strongly engaged in organisations and businesses of all shapes and sizes is central to our future and I look forward to Middlesex academics continuing to collaborate with the world of work as we develop through momentous technological and social changes in the coming years”.

Carol Costley says: “After many years working at MDX and gaining my Professorship in work-based learning, I'm delighted MDX’s record in the field has been acknowledged in this way”.

WBL research at MDX and around the world is extending to several areas, such as overhauling corporate governance; inclusive workplaces, flexible working and disadvantaged groups; investment in skills, lifelong learning and well-being; and re-balancing working practices and rights.

“Most of the research is in Education journals, because the field is concerned with how people learn through their work (paid and unpaid) and how universities can facilitate such higher level learning” says Carol. Carol and her colleagues in the Work and Learning Research Centre draw in their research on the “practice turn” in social sciences, as revealed by sociologist and philosopher Professor Theodore Schatzki, and the work of practice theorists, such as Warwick University’s Professor Davide Nicolini.

MDX Nursing students

MDX has led on research and shared research initiatives by creating work-based learning networks in the UK and across the world; as convenor of the Work and Learning network of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning and of the international conference series on Professional and Practice-based doctorates with the UK Council for Graduate Education; as guest editor for a series of special edition journals; publisher of the Work-Based Learning e-Journal International (an issue recently published showcases the work of MDX staff and students); and in characteristic MDX style, by bringing together industry and academia.

Since 2017 the former Institute for Work-Based Learning’s academics have been relocated to schools across the university in fields from aviation to arts to health. This set-up has the benefit of enabling academics to “really learn from and influence different disciplines' trains of thought to enable work-based and work-integrated learning across the university,” Carol says. “It's about deep and horizontal learning. That's where the world is going."

Work-based learning at MDX has always been a field of research that underpins learning and teaching. Recent work-based or work-integrated learning at MDX has tended towards more engagement with full-time undergraduates and is concerned with placements, mentoring and simulations. It is a way to develop abilities needed in practice situations where for example students can develop complex problem solving, reflective practices, enquiry skills and undertaking work-based projects.

MDX has run programmes for professionals in corporates – including Asda, Halifax, EasyJet, Toshiba and BT ­- in local government and public services and for people working in community organisations and charities.

The university is also committed to work-based learning in another context by providing higher and degree apprenticeships in a range of public and private sector roles.

Welcoming the publication of the Bibliometric, Director of Apprenticeships at MDX and member of the Work and Learning Research Centre, Professor Darryll Bravenboer says: “This research demonstrates that Middlesex has a very strong international reputation for expertise in work-integrated and work-based learning. Much of this reputation has been built on a track record of innovation and research that aligns the worlds of work and learning for the benefit of individuals and their employers.

"Individuals benefit through increased professional career progression opportunities and employers benefit from the increased business effectiveness or service enhancements introduced as a direct consequence of work-based projects and initiatives that their employees develop”.

Among disciplines with which MDX work-based learning academics are engaged is dance

Darryll has jointly edited December’s special issue of the Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning journal with University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) Director of Policy and Operations Mandy Crawford-Lee, focusing on how higher and degree apprenticeships in the public sector provide access to professional careers. Recently he led a research consortium of MDX, Sheffield Hallam and Staffordshire Universities and UVAC on the report,Creating institutional conditions for sustainable degree apprenticeships’.

In 2019 and 2020, MDX Professor David Boud, a member of the Work and Learning Research Centre and well-known internationally for his landmark 2001 publication  ‘Work-based learning; a new higher education’ was identified as "best in the world" for research in the field of higher education by The Australian newspaper.

"Middlesex has clearly been the leading university in pioneering work-based learning programmes in the world for some time, and that is the reason I have become associated with it," David says. "The Middlesex version of work-based learning is about a lot more than traditional sandwich courses or work placements in conventional courses. It shifts the locus from what has been traditionally included in courses, to what the needs of work demand. It is also about starting with employees already in work and what HE opportunities they need, rather from what inexperienced students might need to gain employment".

MDX was one of the first UK universities to offer work-based learning in 1992. It was home to the National Centre for Work-Based Learning Partnerships at the former Tottenham campus then at Trent Park. In the late 1990s it developed the work-based programmes to doctoral level. A special edition ‘Professional Doctorate Curriculum, Pedagogy and Achievements ’ edited by Dr Pauline Armsby, former Doctor of Professional Studies programme leader at MDX and Professor Costley appears in Studies in Continuing Education, and a forthcoming special edition ‘The Role of Practice in Doctoral Degrees ’ by Armsby, Costley and MDX Associate Professor Gordon Weller in Research in Post-Compulsory Education.

The long running research output on Work-based Learning at Middlesex currently underpins the Professional Doctorate and a range of programmes across the university including a degree or Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice and an advanced pilot study Honours programme

Some of the landmark achievements in Work-Based Learning at MDX

1996 Queen's Anniversary Prize for integrating formal education and employment
1998 Validation of the innovative and successful Doctor of Professional Studies
2005 Award of Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
2008 Awarded £8 million by Higher Education Funding Council to support employer engagement
2010 Quality Assurance Agency identified "the distinctive contribution of the Institute for Work-Based Learning " as an area of good practice
2012 Higher Apprentice Scheme launched
2017 selected by the European Commission as one of 50 best practice case studies in Europe for university-business cooperation.

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