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Publication: “This unpaid placement makes you poor”: Australian social work students’ experiences of the financial burden of field education

QUT Centre for Justice  members, Christine Morley, Joanne Clarke, Jennifer Mays and Jennie Briese have been part of a team researching the current financial burden on students required to complete long, and mostly unpaid, social work placements.  Their research has been published in the social sciences Q1 journal, The International Journal of Social Work Education, titled, “This unpaid placement makes you poor:” Australian social work students’ experiences of the financial burden of field education.


While there is growing evidence about the financial burden of completing long, compulsory (mostly unpaid) placements for social work students, this Australian study contemporizes existing research by exploring this issue in the current context (2020–2022), during which time we have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the related economic problems, and modified ASWEAS standards. The data is drawn from 372 undergraduate and Masters (qualifying) students across four universities in different states and explores their experiences of financial stress associated with current placement arrangements; their sources of income and employment arrangements; and how they navigated balancing paid work around placement, or how they supported themselves if they did not work alongside placement. The study evidences no improvement in the situation facing social work students in Australia despite modest ASWEAS modifications that offered limited flexibility around placement requirements during 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings contribute to an expanding body of research that indicates the current model of field education is unsustainable for both social work students and the profession and confirms that urgent changes are required for the social work profession to consider our student population in its social justice mandate.

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