University of Strathclyde



Although student feedback consistently suggests that travel to placement causes significant strain, the impact on learning and student well-being is under-explored. In this project, student interns with ‘lived experience’ of commuting to placement explored the experiences of student speech and language therapists using a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. Findings indicate that commuting to placement, rather than to university, leads to significantly greater impact on academic work, health and well-being and student finances.

This project was supported by Enhancement Theme funding from QAA Scotland.

The full report is available at the bottom of the page.


School of Psychological Sciences and health

Contact Details

Dr Susan McCool,, Speech and Language Therapy, School of Psychological Sciences and Health, Humanities and Social Sciences


Student Transitions


Work placements are becoming an increasingly prominent feature within higher education, in the drive towards enhanced graduate employability and as a pedagogical response to the desire to situate learning within real, practical contexts and applications. While the benefits of placements are assumed, potential detrimental impacts on students are often over-looked. To ignore such impacts is perilous within a wider context of teaching excellence, student satisfaction and widening access.

This project focused on one undergraduate programme within the University of Strathclyde where there is extensive student time on placement, as a means of understanding impacts of commuting on students and disseminating that learning across the university.

The BSc Hons Speech and Language Pathology programme has integral placements in each year of the 4-year programme, taking up over 55 days in total. In order to access sufficient numbers of suitable placements, students are required to commute for up to 2 hours each way in what can be a complicated daily commute to remote or difficult-to-access locations; and a proportion of students is required to travel further afield, requiring overnight accommodation.  In years 2, 3 and 4 of the programme placements are scheduled for 2 consecutive days per week for up to 10 weeks; university attendance is required on the other days. This pattern suits the needs of placement providers and is considered to have advantages from both pedagogical and student support perspectives. Student feedback consistently indicates, however, that placement periods, whilst highly valued as learning experiences, can be disruptive and difficult in practical terms.


Student interns with ‘lived experience’ of commuting to placement developed a 44-item questionnaire using Qualtrics survey software.  Students were asked to rate impacts of (1) commuting to placement, and (2) commuting to university, across the same 7 areas: finances; part-time paid employment; health and well-being; personal life (friendships, family and relationships); social life and other commitments; academic work (the placement module) and academic work (other modules). It was circulated via formal university means (myplace) and via students’ informal social media networks. 44 students (out of a possible 102) fully completed the questionnaire, the majority of whom had completed 3rd year and therefore had significant experience on which to draw. Follow-up semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 students. Data was collected over 3 weeks in May/ June 2016.  

Key findings

Commuting to placement has a greater overall impact on students than their daily commute to classes in the university. There are impacts on students as follows:

  • Academic work is affected more by placement commuting than by travel to university.  This is explained by placement taking up full days, with commuting time on top.
  • Health & wellbeing was reported as affected by commuting to placement more than to university.  A demanding university timetable combined with long days on placement increases fatigue and contributes to stress and anxiety.
  • There is clear impact on financial expenditure related to commuting to placement – with more students reporting a greater financial impact for placement commute compared to university commute.
  • Not all students apply for reimbursement of placement related travel costs, for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes this is due to ineligibility despite costs for placement being considerably greater than costs for university travel.  Some students perceive the application process as complex and/or have been unsuccessful when making applications.  Eligible students were generally unaware of the option to claim at any point during the placement, leaving many students unnecessarily accruing expenditure throughout placement.
  • Commuting to placement can require students to use different modes of transport than the daily commute to university.  Travel cards purchased for the University commute may not provide the extent of travel cover required for placement.
  • Commuting to placement takes considerably longer on average than commuting to university, with a roundtrip commute time of >2 hours compared to <2 hours roundtrip commute time when coming to university.
  • Other financial impacts related to placement commuting include decreased availability for part-time work and increased child-care costs.
  • Students reported they have less time to devote to personal and social life while on placement, and reduced their commitments to part-time working while on placement where they could.
  • Students felt underprepared for the distances that they may have to travel to placement. Some suggested more prominent information for prospective applicants would be helpful.


Programmes offering work placements for their students should give consideration to possible far-reaching impacts on students in areas including academic work, health and well-being and finances.

Students should be fully involved in planning new developments and reviewing existing arrangements in order to help programmes anticipate and where possible minimise unintended deleterious consequences.

University support services can offer valuable services such as tailored advice on financial support. Programmes and support services should work in partnership to promote and target relevant services to students undertaking work placements.    

Next steps

For the BSc H SLP, steps have been taken to review information and advice about placement and its implications for prospective and current students.

Additionally, student-suggested coping strategies have been used by interns to create a “Survival Guide When Commuting Placement” for distribution to all current and future students with the intention of helping them to make future commutes more productive and less demanding where possible (see link below).

As well as disseminating results and recommendations within University of Strathclyde, the project team will to submit a proposal to the “International Innovation and Enhancement In Higher Education Conference”, to be held in Glasgow on 6-8 June 2017.

Lessons learned

This project provided a unique opportunity to engage with and listen to ‘the student voice’ regarding what for many students is both the most important, the most valuable and simultaneously the most challenging aspect of the BSc H SLP. It offered the chance to systematically explore and compare the impact of commuting to placement as opposed to coming in to university. Finding of clear impacts of commuting to placement on academic work, health & well-being and finances provide justification for careful consideration of these aspects at programme level, as well as across the University and more widely in higher education.

Student involvement

The breadth and depth of student involvement is what gives this project its validity and vitality.

Student interns determined the scope of the study and designed the data-gathering instruments. They obtained and analysed the data and decided on the best means of reporting the findings.  In short, they had decision-making influence over all aspects of the study.

Students in all four years of the programme generously and magnanimously shared their experiences of impacts related to commuting to placement.


Please click on the link to see an advice leaflet produced by student interns containing advice on commuting from students to students:

The full report is downloadable below