Getting to spend a year working in industry while still a student motivated Indian national Oishi Deb to join the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Deb spent her year as an intern writing software for aircraft engines at the auto and aero-engine manufacturing company Rolls-Royce.
“To be able to get involved with the development process of safety-critical software for the aircraft’s engine electronics controller has been a great experience,” says Deb, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in software and electronic engineering.
A year in industry, also called a placement or sandwich year, allows students to spend up to 12 months of their three- or four-year degree program gaining work experience in their field, instead of in the classroom. A placement year is included in many U.K. degree programs or students can add it.
In the 2014-15 academic year, 153,535 first-degree undergraduate students were enrolled in placement courses at U.K. universities, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Already a familiar option to U.K. students, the placement year has several potential benefits for interested prospective international students.
1. Real-world industry experience: A placement year can be good for first-time job seekers as well as for those looking for international work exposure or to strengthen their CVs.
A placement year can put a student’s knowledge into practice, says Joanne Hopkins, international and European recruitment officer for the University of South Wales.
That has been the experience so far for Aston University undergraduate student and Thai national Kunjika Saluja, who is currently doing her placement year at Xerox on the global procurement team. Her duties include managing live, electronic auctions for Europe and the U.S. and handling vendor accounts.
“My placement experience has been amazing,” says Saluja, an economics and management major. “I have developed immensely as an individual, mastering in time management, relationship building and leadership skills.”
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Aston University is one of four universities – including the University of Bath, the University of Surrey and Ulster University – where more than 50 percent of students participate in a placement year, according to the school’s website.
Students are typically responsible for finding and applying to placements; however, many university career centers provide assistance with CVs and cover letters plus other support services.
And there are no special requirements for international students, since a student visa covers full-time work in placements, says Benjamin Smith, head of placements, projects and international studies at the University of Bath School of Management.
2. Salaries or reduced tuition: Many placements pay a salary. And tuition fees during the placement year may be reduced.
Student salaries typically range between 12,000-24,000 pounds, or roughly $15,000-$30,000, “depending on the type of work they have been able to secure,” Hopkins, of the University of South Wales, said via email.
During his placement, Polish national and University of South Wales student Konrad Ciechanowski worked at GE Aircraft Engine Services as a quality engineer in the quality control department.
“I got paid a competitive salary during my placement,” says Ciechanowski, whose earnings were in the upper range.
But tuition fees can vary between schools. At the University of South Wales, international students pay a reduced fee of 2,380 pounds or roughly $3,000 during the placement year, instead of the annual 11,900 pounds (around $15,000) for degree courses, according to the school’s website.
“I got to save during the year,” says Nigerian national Theresa Olloh, a University of Surrey student pursuing an electronic engineering with communications major.
Regular tuition this year for that major is 17,500 pounds or around $22,000 for international students. Tuition during the placement year is 1,800 pounds or around $2,250, according to the University of Surrey website.
Olloh completed her paid placement year at telecommunications provider O2, part of Telefónica U.K. Ltd. As a junior radio engineer, she served as a system tester on smart meters, which provide consumers with data on their energy consumption.
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3. Better postgraduation job prospects: A placement year can put international students on the fast track to regular employment, particularly those who are interested in remaining in the U.K.
Recruiters that High Fliers Research Ltd. surveyed in 2015 said that 32 percent of entry-level positions in the U.K. in 2016 would be filled by graduates who previously worked for their companies. For students who completed a placement year, the report said that recruiters often offer a position a full year before students graduate and months before other employers that typically only recruit grads in their last year of study.
“A high number of our students that undertake a sandwich year will secure a job with that same company before they have completed their final year,” said Hopkins of the University of South Wales.
Regardless of whether a student chooses to remain in the U.K., the skills learned can translate well for any job market. University of South Wales student Ciechanowski says his GE placement taught him technical, business and soft skills.
“It showed me the business inside out, so I am sure that when I get my postgraduate job, I will feel comfortable in the work environment,” says Ciechanowski, who plans to get his master’s and rejoin GE in Poland.
University of Surrey student Olloh says her placement gave her “a more grounded idea of what life after university would be like.” She says it gave her exposure to actual work environments, “which is something that cannot be taught in lectures.”