The past century’s discussion on the ultimate purpose of higher education institutions has resolved in the adoption of three missions of the university, commonly known now as excellence in education, excellence in research and active social engagement. Nonetheless, the question on the implementation of the paths the universities should follow, especially with its first mission – education, remains a topic for a heated debate among academics, higher education practitioners, and policy makers. How to measure excellence and relevance of education at the university nowadays? How to ensure that the skills provided by the university match the ones needed locally and globally? To effectively translate theoretical “excellence in teaching” into more practical “graduate success”, “better employability opportunities” and “relevant knowledge and skills”, the theoretical education should be enhanced by the practical experience. Commonly, such strategies to connect theory and practice in order to improve students’ success and relevance of higher education are referred as work-based learning (WBL).
One mode of WBL delivery, mostly practiced in Germany, is a dual study programme design. It combines in-company work experience with theoretical education at the higher education institution in the form of a coordinated curriculum. Münster University of Applied Sciences (MUAS), one of the largest universities of applied sciences in Germany, offers 10 bachelor programmes following such study model. They cover various disciplinary areas such as engineering, business, informatics, and health sciences. A fine example of such practice is MUAS Dual Study Programme in Mechanical Engineering.
The organization of the Dual Study Programme in Mechanical Engineering
Dual study programmes resemble prolonged internships, except being better coordinated with the curricula than typical seasonal bachelor placements. Instead of a shorter period of time spent in-company, the students enrolled in dual study programmes study and work simultaneously for the whole duration of the programme, which is 4,5 years in case of MUAS bachelor Programme in Mechanical Engineering. In addition to the academic learning component, this specific programme also includes a vocational training (VET) phase, leading to a professional certificate. In other words, at the end of the program, the students receive both a bachelor degree in engineering and a professional certificate in industrial mechanics.
For 9 semesters, the students spend 3 days a week in the company, 2 days at the MUAS and 1 at a VET academy. Importantly, a remarkable feature of all dual study programs at MUAS is the requirement for the students to have a working contract with a company prior joining the program. Although it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to secure the placement, MUAS supports this process by offering the students a list of partner companies and, in some cases, advertising open positions. The programme is concluded with a bachelor thesis, normally associated with a problem faced by the partner company.
Drivers to engage in a Dual Study Programme
Although aligned, the motivations to engage in this mode of WBL delivery for students, companies and the universities might vary. Students see the opportunities for improved skills through practical learning, financial gain at their work placement, better chances to get employed, and more professional prospects. Companies, on the other hand, perceive the dual study programs as an invaluable channel to attract and retain talented young professionals at a very early stage. According to the recent statistics, around 90% of students who finish their dual studies remain employed at their partner company. For the universities, dual study programmes diversify the range of educational offerings for students, provide them the opportunity to work in closer cooperation with industry – thus better attend to more practice-oriented curriculum, and equip their graduates with relevant skills for the modern world. Well-organized WBL schemes can lay the grounds for the development of further co-operation practices between academia and industry in forms of innovative joint educational and research projects, and promote the visibility of the involved partners.
Image source: FH Münster, Robert Rieger