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While COVID-19 has reshaped Australian higher education with online course delivery, Zoom consultations and AI exams, it hasn’t changed the critical role of higher education in preparing students for the job market.

Work-integrated Learning (WIL) programs such as placements, study tours, industry practicums and industry and community-based projects are considered instrumental for equipping graduates with the required employability skills to function effectively in the working environment. However, travel bans and social distancing rules during this pandemic period have made it impossible for students to engage with industry partners and mentors in person. Most WIL programs have been cancelled.

However virtual WIL programs are becoming the ‘new norm’. We partner with Make a Difference Travel in the Philippines to consider their online WIL program focusing on social entrepreneurship and sustainability. Prior to COVID-19 the program was delivered in the field: the team has promptly developed e-learning resources and online mentorship in response to the global crisis. The experiential online learning includes authentic video content that introduces social enterprise, sustainability and design thinking in the Philippines. It allows students to interact with entrepreneurs and to explore solutions to business challenges. The guided online learning aims to provoke students to inquire, reflect and pursue further study in the area.

While its effectiveness is yet to be studied, the experience inspires us to reconsider WIL curriculums in higher education. Perhaps virtual international WIL is an alternative program, offering employability skills development that is at a lower running cost, easier for risk management, and with fewer restriction on the number of participants, geographical locations and time?

This is part of a series of insights related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on business.

Dr Kaiying Ji is a Lecturer with the Discipline of Accounting at the University of Sydney Business School. Her research is focussed on corporate financial reporting and its economic consequences.

Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson (PhD) is an Associate Professor of Work-Integrated Learning and the Director for the University of Sydney Business School Work-Integrated Learning Hub.

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