Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the views of academics, senior university managers and employer representatives on the design and implementation of an innovative work‐based learning (WBL) programme in UK higher education. Design/methodology/approach – The research project draws upon case study research and utilizes data from semi‐structured interviews and documentary analysis of policy papers. The experiences of university staff and employer representatives were analysed methodologically using the organisational story‐telling framework. Findings – The paper exposes voices which are rarely heard in the public domain and provides insights into the challenges involved in introducing new practices within higher education. The themes that have emerged are: the intensity of the learning experience; tensions amongst academics delivering the programme; and, academic support for students, particularly in relation to the importance of face‐to‐face contact. Originality/value – The paper addresses key gaps in the WBL literature, most notably a dearth of critical accounts of practice within WBL programmes from the perspective of university staff and employer representatives. This type of research is also needed given the increased priority by governments in relation to forging links between business and higher education.