Insight & Innovation: The ASET 2021 Conference

Last week I had the pleasure of attending #ASET21 and spending two full days hearing opinions and predictions by industry experts, all whilst gaining a greater understanding of new online and hybrid higher education tools and programming which have emerged during the Covid pandemic.

I’ve been with Virtual Internships since their inception and currently belong to the Partnership Development Management team for Europe, the Middle East & Africa. We love attending the British-based ASET annual conference, as we believe that it is the number one organisation focused on best practices related to the effectiveness and quality of work-based and placement learning across the Higher Education sector. Another reason for it being one of our favourite conferences is that way back in 2018 (when VI began!), we met and partnered with our first university during the conference.

#ASET21 was slickly presented with an excellent user interface which offered high attendee participation and general collegial engagement. The crew at ASET showcased a premier example of how an online conference should run.

Here are my key takeaways:


Highlight: Sophie’s take on the future of remote work

For me, the essence of the conference was crystallized by Sophie Gueli (an ASET Bursary recipient from City University of London) who presented her research project. Sophie studied several types of remote work, looking closely at the desires and tendencies of her Gen Z peers (startlingly different from previous generations!) and made some truly insightful observations and predictions about the world of work.

Highlights included:

  • How the work/life balance has changed for Gen Z, who place a high value on undertaking fulfilling work whilst having a gratifying personal life. Remote work is the perfect option to attain this delicate balance.
  • Tech skills are a necessity, not a requirement.
  • Accessibility and the removal of barriers. With remote work, geography is no longer a limiting factor to accepting a job. Removing this barrier increases opportunities for those that are less mobile, because they may live far from the companies they wish to work with and/or are unable to travel for reasons relating to their studies, finances, family situations, health etc. Remote work facilitates an equitable playing field for all job applicants, where the major prerequisite traits are hard and soft skills and not location.
  • Growth opportunities: Gen Z not only wants to feel valued in the work they do, but they also wish to be recognised and receive merit-based promotions. As they begin their working life, many working with start-ups, they are apt to request and receive a part of the company in the form of shares.
  • Efficiency: It is no longer a question of just showing up to work, sitting at a desk all day and producing a certain amount of work (or not). Remote work is all about productivity – output has replaced the concept of hours at work.


It’s clear: students WANT in-person AND virtual learning options

Jane Parry (University of Southampton) offered some interesting data gained from a student survey. Of those surveyed, 8/10 want a hybrid work situation, whilst 9/10 believe they are more productive remotely due to fewer distractions and more time without a commute.

However, this style is not for everyone: Karsten Zegwaad discussed how his institution (University of Waikato in NZ) has dealt with students returning to the classroom, only to be sent back to their dorms for some of their classes. He is not a fan of blended and believes it should be all online or all in-person.

Perhaps blended learning in a classroom may not be as effective as 100% in-person, but in terms of the future of work, there will be demand for at least partial remote work.


Online = increased access and engagement

We at Virtual Internships know that online programs enable more students to participate.

During the conference, David Casey (UAEU) suggested that hybrid work leads to greater DnI (Diversity and Inclusion) in teams.

Deyrick Allen of IoT Horizons pointed out that there is some clear inequality in the fact that 80% of the planet is not yet digitally connected. He spoke of his work in Namibia where villages had been given technology, only to see it fail and find themselves back at square one. He believes a stronger and more robust global infrastructure is required for the work ‘playing field’ to become equitable

It’s great to see, however, that the VI program has the potential to support in this arena. For example, we are currently working with a University in Botswana to provide global work experience for 30 of their students and we’re partnering with Honoris United Universities to support the next generation of African Talent – all remotely! There’s more on this very topic in this article by University World News:Virtual leadership offer international work opportunities


From TIME to OUTPUT: The new KPI at work?

Following on from some of the ideas presented by Sophie, David Casey (UAEU), wondered if time has been replaced by productivity & output as the main KPI for some companies.

At VI, every intern has a dedicated project with specific deliverables due at regular intervals. Host Company supervisors are not interested in face-time or posturing from interns- they do not care at what time an intern is at work, or where they are working from, what they want is results, aka Output. A remote internship offers ultimate flexibility without compromising the expected quality of work


With remote work, a human support element is essential for success.

The final afternoon sessions saw a group from Bournemouth University discuss the important role of placement advisors for all of their internships, regardless of the length , whether it was year-long, 30 weeks, or 15 weeks. The advisors make sure interns remain focused and on-task throughout their experience. Similarly, VI ensures successful placements by providing personalised coaching for each intern and a dedicated Intern Experience Manager to help each intern throughout their experience.


Virtual Internships: Bridging the employability gap

VI is all about bridging the employability gap, and conference delegates agreed that aspect should be central to collective aims moving forwards.

Swansea University finished up their session with a description of the events they hold for their students discussing the “pedagogies of uncertainty” suggesting that graduates need to be prepared for anything as they transition from school to work. And, the uncertainty about the future of work is where VI excels. We aim to prepare remote interns for a wide range of possible scenarios and outcomes, making them flexible and agile



We learned of numerous exciting and innovative emerging programs:

  • Sarah Holcombe (U of Plymouth) presented her i May flower Team internship project. Students undertook 38 hours of community-based work, pointing out that it was a win-win situation for both parties.
  • Rachel Shannon (Ulster U) described the success of their year-long international internship placements through a provider.
  • Ben Powell (U of Westminster) offered a glimpse of their new work-based placement learning project, where students work remotely for companies for 35hours while following a career-focused curriculum.
  • Other delegates also from theUniversity of Westminster presented on Creative Learning and Assessment, touting the vast global opportunities offered by remote working.
  • Ulster University delegates showcased their internships in prisons program, discussing the difficulties and benefits associated with these ‘new kinds’ of placements.
  • The team from Nottingham Trent University presented their innovative Digital Marketing Academy, designed to close the skills gap which is so prevalent in graduating students.
  • Representatives from the University of East Anglia showcased their peer-to-peer help program, where students work through their problems and issues associated with undertaking an internship.
  • For more information, take a look at another of our blog posts: The Rise of Virtual Internships and 4 Emerging Models of Delivery

The conference wrapped up with a powerful keynote speech by Ross McWillian, who shared some of his thoughts based on the Kübler-Ross change curve (the stages of grief). Ross made a parallel to how we have experienced, approached, wrestled with, tamed, and basically dealt with the pandemic as we try to continue to educate our students. He cites our current phase as “integration”.

He also touched on the concept of stress, indicating that it can be as much friend as a foe, given that this feeling can act as a motivator when we feel under fire.

He ended by paying homage to Brené Brown, lifting her concept of “braving the wilderness” and laying it at our feet as we indeed confront the unknown, stepping into our post-pandemic world of education.

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