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This is a term used, predominantly in the UK, to describe an undergraduate degree course where a student spends a period of their degree working in industry, commerce or for a governmental body as part of their studies. In Chemistry students tend to be employed in industry or scientific government organisations. Such students, depending on the country, are referred to variously as ‘sandwich students’, ‘interns’, ‘stages’, ‘practicants’ and so on. This type of education is a subset of what is generally referred to as ‘work-based’ or ‘work-related’ learning.
There are countless models for sandwich education, as it is commonly referred to, with study periods outside of the university (and in employment) varying from a few weeks in duration up to a year in length. These periods of work experience can be during vacations or during term time or encompassing both. Again, largely dependent on country, work experience is either paid or unpaid.
The work period can contribute marks to the undergraduate degree but universities often fight shy of doing this as they can find it difficult to assess academically this work experience. The very best courses integrate fully both aspects of study and the degree awarded has mark contributions from both experiences. An example from the UK would be an ‘MChem Chemistry Degree incorporating a year in industry’ – a four year undergraduate programme – years one and two at the university, year three in industry and year four back at the university.
Whether universities offer such types of courses depends largely on their historic origins. Universities which grew up as ‘seats of learning’ and have (for hundreds of years) engaged in ‘scholarly activity’ are less likely to offer sandwich courses than those universities which are younger and have their origins in links with industry and commerce. Academics from the former institutions, which are generally research led, often need convincing of the merits or relevance of sandwich education, although there is a significant amount of literature which indicates that students on sandwich degrees fare better academically than their traditional degree counterparts. That there is this divide can be seen in data (again from the UK, published in 2011), showing that twenty Higher Education providers were responsible for approximately 70% of all placements in commerce and industry. Tradition still plays an overriding role in higher education in Europe and change and the adoption of different ideas occurs only slowly – witness the acceptance of the undergraduate bachelor in Continental Europe.
There are many benefits of sandwich education both tangible and intangible. These include the development of team working skills, increasing self-assurance and time management skills in the individual and providing context for the university curriculum. Communication skills, written, oral and cognitive are enhanced considerably in students in the industrial environment. When it comes to graduate recruitment, statistics show that employers specifically seek out graduates who have had industry experience.
Currently by far the greatest number of placements undertaken are in Business and Administrative Studies.