REVIEW OF THE PLACEMENT OFFICE The Administration and Services Quality Assurance Programme2002–03

Placement Office: Review Group Report
An Coiste Feabhais Riarachán agus Seirbhísí
The Committee on Administration and Services Quality Improvement
The Administration and Services Quality Assurance Programme2002–03
Final Report
28th March 2003
This report arises from a visit by a review team to the Placement Office on 30th/31st
January, 2003. The Placement Office had already prepared and submitted a 'Self
Assessment Report' that, with other documentation, was made available to the review
team well in advance of the visit.
The review team consisted of: Dr. Anthony Glynn, Director of Innovation & Business
Affairs, Dublin City University; Mr Ronan Kavanagh, Insulator Product Manager,
Tyco Electronics Raychem; Professor Padraic O’Donoghue, Dean of Engineering,
NUI, Galway; and Ms. Mary O’Riordan, Computer Services acting as rapporteur.
The Review Group was presented with a very comprehensive self-assessment report
and supporting documentation outlining in detail the aims and objectives of the
Placement Office. The Review Group wish to acknowledge the time and effort of all
members of the staff in developing this document and their contribution, courtesy and
professionalism throughout the process.
Background to the Placement Process
The Placement office is located in the Science and Engineering Technology Building,
which provides excellent physical conditions for the staff working in the Placement
Office. The Placement Office reports to the Director of Industrial Liaison who reports
to the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs. The Placement
Office operates a Professional Experience Programme for Students known as PEP.
Feedback from both students and employers on the operations of the Placement Office
was extremely positive with the PEP providing a strong brand image for the
University. The standard of documentation, brochures and posters is excellent. This
reinforces the brand of the PEP, which is recognised by students, academic staff and
employers as an important strategic development for the University. The recent
development of the web presence for the Placement Office can only enhance its image
and operations in the future. The Review Group would like also to acknowledge the
excellent work of the office given the current resource constraints; there are two full
time Placement Officers and one administrator. This office is currently placing
approximately 460 students, which compares very favourably against the international
standard of 250-300 per professional staff member. However on the other hand, it is
clear that the number of administrative staff to support the Professionals is
inadequate, and needs to be addressed in order for them to be able to achieve these
The Placement Office is now working in a very different environment from when it
was first established given a significant increase in the number of students to be
placed and also a changing external economic environment. When the Placement
Office was established the booming economy made placement a relatively easy task
especially for small numbers of students. This environment is now radically different
with the economic downturn particularly in IT related fields.
In arriving at the recommendations listed below the Review Group met with all the
stakeholders in the process, the Deputy President and Registrar, the Vice President for
Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs, all the staff of the Placement Office, the
employers, students who had participated in the PEP programme and academic staff
involved in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes requiring PEP. We would
like to thank all involved for their time and commitment to the Review Process.
The Review Group has structured the recommendations in four main areas: Strategy,
Structure, Operations and Communications. The Review Group wishes to highlight
that any reference in this report to a specific role or position pertains exclusively
to the position in question and not to any of the individuals who presently hold
the position.
Throughout all meetings with stakeholders the strategic importance of the PEP was
highlighted. From the students’ perspective the PEP is seen as being an important
factor in their choice of course and University; from the employers’ perspective it is
seen as potentially part of their recruitment process and also an important link
between them and the University; for academic staff it is seen as a valuable interface
and learning experience for students; from the senior management’s perspective it
provides the University with an opportunity to strengthen its links with the
community and with industry perhaps ultimately providing research and funding
opportunities which are mutually beneficial.
Recognising the strategic importance of the PEP the Review Group recommend that
the following issues should be given consideration:
• The importance of the role of academic staff in the development and operation
of the PEP and the need for a partnership between academic staff and staff of
the Placement Office must be enunciated and supported by the University
Management Team.
The importance, from a strategic viewpoint, of the development of the PEP
brand, which has been highlighted in the new Strategic Plan for the University,
must be communicated clearly to all staff in the University.
Whilst there is a clear and successful strategy in relation to the Undergraduate
PEP programme, the Review Group feels that the University, through the
Placement Office, the University Management Team and the relevant
academic departments, must develop a similar strategic approach on the role
of PEP in relation to taught postgraduate programmes: such a strategy did not
come across clearly to the review panel.
The aims and objectives in the self-assessment report should be transferred
into a strategic document that can be used to communicate the vision and
objectives of PEP and that of the Placement Office. It is recommended that
this document would contain the following elements:
Mission, vision and aims;
The role and responsibility of the personnel, along with their yearly
reviewed objectives, which can be measured and reported;
A rolling five year plan to achieve the aims and objectives;
The resource implications;
A marketing plan for the PEP that is consistent with the overall
marketing strategy of the University.
The review group identified a number of structural issues in relation to the Placement
Office that need to be considered.
Within the University
The Placement Office is currently one of a number of units within the Industrial
Liaison Office. As a review of this office is presently underway, it is opportune to
look at the position of the Placement Office within the University.
Since PEP is an academic requirement within a sizeable number of degree
programmes across the University, the argument exists that it is better suited to embed
it in the academic structures of the University. It is clear that the academic
participation in the programme is essential for its success. Since the range of
academic participation in PEP varies from zero to 100% depending on the course and
faculty involved, then the quality assurance aspect of the programme is extremely
vulnerable. It is possible that the PEP in some courses is not considered, by academic
staff, as an integral part of the programme and therefore it is not taken seriously.
Therefore, there could be an argument to align the PEP placement function more
within the academic process of the University i.e. within the Registrar’s Office.
The counter argument would see the Placement Office remaining in its current
position in the University Structure as part of the Industrial Liaison function. Given
that the major function of the Industrial Liaison office is the interaction with industrial
organizations, and the fostering of the University’s relationship with Industry, then
there is an equally strong argument for retaining placement within that function,
where it would then be more closely aligned to the overall University strategy for
dealing with the corporate world.
We also recommend that the University should consider setting up a university-wide
PEP council/forum/steering group comprising relevant faculty members, external
corporate personnel, PEP office professionals. This body would provide a forum for
leadership, debate and development within the University, and perhaps report to
Academic Council and the Governing Authority.
Structure of the Office
As it is presently structured, the Placement Office has two Placement Officers (soon
to be three) who are supported by a single secretary. Therefore, the Placement
Officers tend to do all tasks associated with the placement of students – from the
initial contact with companies through to the detailed administrative arrangements for
interviews. There is a need for greater separation of the professional and
administrative roles within the Placement Office. This is likely to improve the
efficiency of the Placement Office and to allow the Professional staff more time for
PEP strategy development and company contacts.
The Review Group also recommends that one individual in the Placement Office
should be designated as the head of that unit, with a somewhat reduced placement
Link to Careers Office
The Careers Office is also a unit within the Industrial Liaison Office. The links
between this Office and the Placement Office may be described as informal at present.
There may be a need for a greater sharing of databases etc. However it must be
recognized that the functions of both units are different at an operational level and this
should remain the case.
The overall procedures used for the placement process to date have been successful.
The posters and printed course publications are excellent. The staff are however
aware themselves that for the further development of the PEP Programme, further
fine-tuning of the Office’s operational procedures needs to be implemented.
The Review Group recommend that the following issues be given strong
consideration in order to enhance the PEP placement process:
In line with the NUI, Galway strategy of increasing the numbers of postgraduate
students, the Review Group recommend that the undergraduate and postgraduate
PEP should be given their own identity as their respective requirements are
different. If possible within the resources available, there should be
o a dedicated postgraduate placement officer;
o a flexible matching placement process which takes into consideration the
specialist nature of the relevant postgraduate requirements;
o close liaison with the postgraduate academic coordinator particularly in
relation to potential positions and job specifications.
The Undergraduate Programme process is functioning well, and students
understand the process and the reasons for it. The Review Group recommend
o The University should be asked by the Placement Office to ensure that the
academic tutors on all programmes visit their student on placement. The
PEP is part of an academic degree and the visit is important for the
academic to talk to the equivalent company professional and to ensure that
the student understands the relationship to their academic studies, and that
they do not feel cut-off from their University department.
o The Placement Office should encourage all programmes to set up a system
for returning PEP students to pass on their experiences to outgoing
students. This is well developed in some programmes and should be
encouraged in all.
Students about to start PEP should have access to email addresses of students
who have previously been employed in order that they may exchange
The Office would benefit considerably by utilising the goodwill of the
academic coordinators with regard to creating appropriate job specifications
and identifying which students may be best suited for such positions. This
would help ensure greater “ownership” of the PEP by the academic staff.
The Placement Office should consider a revised approach such that there would be
a single point of contact for the Placement Office to each company. This contact
would promote all courses requiring relevant placements in that company. This
would provide for a better liaison with companies and help establish a more
personalised link with a company being able to identify an individual in the PO
with whom they have a “special” relationship.
There is a need for one point of contact for the course coordinator within the
Placement Office. Thus a matrix of responsibilities would be desirable.
Contact with companies should be based on a priority list of companies that NUI,
Galway wishes to establish developmental links with on an ongoing basis. This
could be established by consultation with relevant faculty. This approach would
provide a focus for developing a strong relationship with companies.
The feedback from the company regarding the performance of the student, relative
to their course skills is essential for the ongoing development of the course.
Since a good responsive database is an essential administrative tool, the database
requirements of the Placement Office should be clarified as soon as possible in
conjunction with MIS, since the current system will not meet the needs of the
Office. It is essential that this database should allow the Placement Office to keep
detailed records of companies that they contact and the number of times they are
As indicated throughout this document the Review Group believe that communication
between all the stakeholders in the placement process is essential. The development of
the PEP brand should continue to build on the strong basis that already exists. In
addition to those mechanisms outlined previously i.e. the rolling strategic plan, the
marketing plan and the establishment of the PEP council, the Review Group further
The Placement Office should regularly communicate with all staff in the
University utilising existing communication mechanisms (e.g. Ollscéala) to ensure
that maximum exposure of the operations within the office is given to all staff of
the University. This will help create awareness of the role and importance of the
PEP programme.
Feedback from companies and students is crucial to ensure the continued success
of the PEP and many systems exist for providing this feedback. A system to
ensure feedback regarding the academic visits to companies should be established,
in consultation with the academic partners in the placement process, as an
essential component of the quality assurance.
The Review Group wish to recognise the excellent work, in particular in relation to
the Undergraduate PEP programme, of the Placement office. The hard work,
dedication and enthusiasm of the staff of the Placement Office was evident as was
their honest and thoughtful approach to the Quality Review Process. The Review
Group, in presenting the report would like to express its support and recognition of
the work of the office and their obvious desire and recognition of the challenges that
lie ahead.
A summary of the recommendations suggested in detail throughout the report follows:
• The University Management Team and the Placement Office must develop a clear
strategy in relation to Postgraduate student placement and put in place appropriate
structures in the Placement Office to ensure its success.
• In light of the current review of the Industrial Liaison Office consideration should
be given to an appropriate position for the Placement Office in the University
• In order to highlight the strategic importance of the PEP the Placement Office
should articulate their strategy, structure and role in a document, which should be
given wide circulation in the University.
• The University Management Team should set up a PEP council/forum/steering
group to provide leadership, debate and development of the PEP programmes in
the University.
• The Placement Office should communicate with all staff of the University on a
regular basis utilising all and every opportunity to raise the profile of the Office
and to highlight the strategic importance of the PEP programmes.
• At an operational level there is a need for greater separation of the professional
and administrative roles within the Placement Office.
• That one individual in the Placement Office should be designated as the head of
that unit, with a somewhat reduced placement target.
• The Postgraduate PEP programme should be given its own identity within the
Placement Office and if possible within the resources available, there should be a
dedicated Postgraduate Placement Officer, a more flexible matching process and
closer liaison with academic staff in respect of the postgraduate programme.
• There is a need to strengthen and support the role of the academic in the operation
and development of the PEP programme from a strategic through to operational
level. In the case of Undergraduate programmes, academic staff must be required
to visit students on placement and a mechanism established whereby the
academics can provide feedback on the visits they make.
• A mechanism should be established to allow for closer liaison between Students
who have participated in PEP programmes and those about to undertake a
The Placement Office should consider setting up a matrix of responsibilities
whereby a member of the office has responsibility for contacting particular
companies and also a responsibility in respect of a particular course.
The Placement Office, in consultation with the Industrial Liaison Office, should
identify and target a priority list of companies with which NUI, Galway wishes to
develop a particular relationship.
The Placement Office must identify its requirements in respect of a database
management system as soon as possible in order to establish a responsive database
to assist them in their operations.