CDU Researcher: Lift Student Placements’ Burdens

Charles Darwin University

A Charles Darwin University (CDU) researcher has called for changes to lengthy, unpaid work placements in higher education, which she says are causing students to choose between their qualifications and other life responsibilities.

At a major field education summit in Sydney today, CDU Head of Social Work, Associate Professor Lisa Hodge, said a lack of flexibility and financial pressures are putting a strain on students who need to undertake placements as part of their studies.

“The requirements of lengthy placements restrict the conditions in which students can engage in the workforce, and this in turn reduces the likelihood of their workforce participation when they graduate,” Dr Hodge said.

“But social work isn’t the only discipline where students are affected by unsustainable work placements – placements in nursing also put pressure on students to dedicate the majority of their time to emotionally-intensive unpaid labour, which leaves little time for anything else.”

Social work placements currently require 1000 hours of placement, which can impede on students’ ability to continue paid full-time work, maintain financial stability, and prioritise their own self-care and wellbeing.

Dr Hodge said major drawbacks of placements for social work students include undue pressure on mental health and wellbeing, student poverty, a limited choice of workplaces and a great lack of flexibility to engage in paid work.

A reduced number of required hours, potential government funding and alternative placement models are among the changes that social workers are advocating.

“To do unpaid work can mean having to choose between putting petrol in the car to get to placement or having enough food for the week,” Dr Hodge said.

“Students shouldn’t have to make such a choice – we can do something about this and change placements to be more are equitable and sustainable during critical years of study.”

A 2022 joint study conducted with five Australian universities, including CDU, found students’ lived experiences of poverty during placements imposed on relationships, care-giving duties and nutrition.

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