Science, Business, and Policy: A long-term reflection on multidisciplinary work-based learning in a master’s track for societal integration of Science

  • Saskia Grooters University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • Emma L. Zaal University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • Menno P. Gerkema University of Groningen, Netherlands
Keywords: work-based learning, science, business and policy, curriculum design, science education, interdisciplinary integration, didactic model, work placement


A strong theoretical approach with a specific focus on disciplinary research characterizes the common science master’s education in the Netherlands. However, a work-based learning (WBL) approach may as well be expedient and suitable for science education at master’s level. In this paper, a case study is presented of a WBL-program designed for an academic setting: the one year Science, Business and Policy (SBP) master’s track, offered at the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Groningen. The paper describes the design and curriculum of the track, including its underlying theoretical framework, courses, multidisciplinary projects and work placements. Based on the SBP-track’s design we identified six possible indicators of a successful elaboration of an academic WBL-program: the SBP-track 1) is designed in response to the Bologna process; 2) is offered fully within the curriculum of a master’s program of a research university; 3) requires a sufficient academic level and disciplinary knowledge at entrée; 4) follows an educational project approach; 5) focuses on the integration and implementation of knowledge, and; 6) applies learning objectives that are specifically formulated to match the WBL educational method. A directed content analysis of SBP work placements revealed an increase in the number of SBP-students between 2003 and 2019, with an overrepresentation of life science students, as well as a large variety of real-case problems addressed for both business and policy organisations diverse in sector, size and region. Students’ grades showed a positive correlation between the initial theoretical preparation and the report made during the work placement. In conclusion, the societal interpretation of the Bologna process has been implemented successfully with SBP, by combining academic learning with gaining professional experience using a WBL-approach.

Received: 03 December 2020
Accepted: 09 April 2021


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Author Biographies

Saskia Grooters, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Lecturer and coordinator of the workbased learning track Science, Business and Policy (SBP) at the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Groningen. The SBP-track was selected in 2018 as a best case practise of WBL in Europe (WEXHE project, European Union). She develops educational programs based on projects in real life, working with students in experience-based learning and based on intensive contact with the professional field. An example of a program co-developed by her is a university broad minor called Future Planet Innovations where students work interdisciplinary on sustainability issues in real live group projects and serious games. Her own education comprises master degrees in Biomedical Sciences, Neurosciences, and Psychology. She combines her theoretical knowledge of these fields with her experience in the corporate world.

Emma L. Zaal, University of Groningen, Netherlands

PhD-candidate at the Faculty of Arts, University of Groningen. In her PhD-project, Emma investigates how socially desirable responding can best be predicted, measured and reduced in online questionnaires. She graduated cum laude from the University of Groningen in 2018 in the research master’s Linguistics: Language & Cognition and in the regular master’s Computer Communication, where she specialized in persuasive communication and socially desirable responding in the behavioural fields of health and sustainability. Emma has worked as a research-assistant at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, where she investigated the societal impact of the work-based learning track Science, Business and Policy. In addition, Emma is a lecturer in Communication and Information Sciences, and teaches courses like questionnaire- and interview design at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen.

Menno P. Gerkema, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Emeritus professor of Chronobiology, and Science, Business and Policy at the University of Groningen. Besides research and teaching Chronobiology and Science and Society, he developed the Science master’s curriculum for the work-based learning track Science, Business and Policy. He is co-founder of the spin-off company Chrono@Work. His main fields of chronobiological research consist of ultradian rhythms in animal behaviour, neurophysiological regulation of circadian output, mechanisms of daily memory, evolution of night- and day active behaviour and long-term consequences of shift-work. He supervised various PhD-projects on Science and Society interactions and currently studies the impact of work-based learning in the context of the Science, Business and Policy track.


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How to Cite
Grooters, Saskia, Emma Zaal, and Menno Gerkema. 2021. “Science, Business, and Policy: A Long-Term Reflection on Multidisciplinary Work-Based Learning in a master’s Track for Societal Integration of Science”. Tuning Journal for Higher Education 8 (2), 119-64.