Mandatory internships: A major challenge for universities
ALL over the world universities provide a platform for teaching, learning and research to the students to sail smoothly in the ocean of opportunities ie market.
If properly handled and supported at all steps of teaching, learning and research, then they will be able to bring better change in the society through innovation in their domain or through securing employment.
Otherwise, they will move in turns like a ship in sea and may not achieve or land at their desired destinations.
Last year, Higher Education Commission (HEC) introduced the undergraduate policy 2020 wherein general education courses are made compulsory along with practical learning requirements including Internships.
The mandatory requirement of internships for 9 weeks is aimed at giving exposure to students of the work environment, work ethics, working in a team, punctuality, etc. It will also help them focus on skills that are in demand.
This will provide opportunities for potential host organizations where students will do an internship, they may involve young and progressive minds in their system for integrating Information Communication Technology (ICT) or get them evaluated through these fresh minds.
The first step required for the effective roll-out of the internships would be defining the role and responsibility of each stakeholder involved in this 9-week activity.
The Universities have to develop a mechanism wherein faculty, staff and student engagement are to be described in a documented manner.
There are many good practices available in the domain which may help them in materializing this initiative.
Some universities were offering internships before this mandatory requirement of HEC, they may continue to operate but this new concept is a bit different from traditional internships which are considered as an application of theoretical knowledge shared in the teaching-learning process whereas this new initiative is focusing on learning work ethics, collaboration and communication skills in a controlled environment.
The second step will be finding potential host institutions where the placement of students can be made for a specified period.
As per undergraduate policy, these may be government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), businesses, teaching institutions, industries, or any other registered or authentic institution.
The universities will be required to sign MoUs after negotiating terms and conditions for this engagement.
There must be clarity on the type of tasks students will perform in the host organization along with parameters for assessing the performance of the students against these tasks.
There is the possibility that private organizations may have some misconceptions about this initiative like they may be afraid of disclosure of their business secret.
Resultantly, they may allow internships in those departments where diary and dispatch type of work is carried out or interns may be involved in activities of selling products in commercial or residential areas in various towns.
If this is the case, then some female students may not be willing to do these types of activities due to cultural barriers or any other restrictions.
Third, there must be a mechanism for conflict resolution or grievances. The students may not be serious initially in abiding by the punctuality rule of the organization due to temporary engagement or other reasons.
The university and the host institution are required to think about such other considerations ie disobedience or passing incorrect information to peers or outside, a personal difference of opinion in different matters, etc.
If the terms and conditions for engagement are clearly defined, such matters can be resolved professionally, otherwise it will bring a bad name to the university or the host institution.
Fourth, capacity building of faculty at universities and staff at potential host institutions is required, without proper briefing on the objectives of internships, code of conduct, tasks to be performed by students, by his supervisor, by the host institution, etc may result in creating confusion which is not desired.
In the same manner, debriefing by the stakeholders after the internship will help in improving internship arrangements in the future for mutual benefit.
The internship is an opportunity for host institutions to involve these young minds in introducing the digitization of their manual systems or discuss ways to expand their business.
Fifth, the universities must consider arrangements of transportation, boarding/lodging for the interns in consultation with the host organizations.
Interns may be allowed to use the transport system and other services i.e. canteen, printing, etc of the host organizations.
The interns may be paid some honorarium if host institutions agree to the same.
There are chances that students may perform well in these host organizations during their 9-week stay and some may be given an offer to start their career and resultantly they may discontinue their academic journey.
There is also a possibility that some host organizations may give failure reports for the interns, In that case, what would be the university’s response? Whether an intern will be required to do an internship at any other host institution? There are chances of favouritism in this process as well and some individuals may not perform the actual activity and the host institution may give completion and satisfactory report.
In some cases, students may offer a bribe to individuals in host institutions for issuing such completion certificates without performing the internship.
Such malpractices can be stopped through a continuous monitoring mechanism in place which universities have to develop for their students.
It will give a good reputation to the university as well as the real benefit of this initiative will be assured.
—The author is Dy Director at Higher Education Commission, Islamabad.