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Universities demand new law on internship

Every year, thousands leave universities in search of a job placement, either as an intern or a volunteer to learn what it will take in the working world after they graduate. Not all of them get what they are looking for. So, as YUDAYA NANGONZI reports, the universities want something done about the problem.

The executive director of the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), Prof John Opuda-Asibo, has agreed with university leaders for government to enact a policy providing internship placement to students.

Opuda said organisations ought to look at internship as an investment to their human resource, but not an expense.

“Today, it is very unfortunate that many students are left out whenever they seek internship in some organisations. If you don’t know anyone, you don’t go anywhere. This is heavily affecting higher education,” Opuda-Asibo said.

His views followed a paper presented by Prof Eriabu Lugujjo, the vice chancellor at Ndejje University, on prior skilling of students at the higher education conference, held at NCHE offices in Kyambogo, last week.

Prof Lugujjo said government should come up with a law ‘compelling’ industries to train or work out a mechanism where industries that train students would enjoy tax rebates.

“It is no secret that some industries/enterprises do not want to take students for internship, and yet on recruitment, they look for individuals with experience,” Lugujjo said, adding that vice chancellors in various universities agreed upon that.

Students of Makerere University in a discussion

He cited countries like South Africa where every industry is attached to a higher education institution, in a bid to train students before they graduate to the labour market.

For the last eight years, NCHE has been organising annual higher education exhibitions at Lugogo UMA show grounds. This time, a conference was organised before the exhibition to discuss youth employability in the country.

Under the theme, "Aligning higher education with entrepreneurship and youth employability", educators, education policy makers, industrialists, among others, discussed solutions to unemployment through partnerships in higher education and industry.

Gloria Tuhaise Wakooba, the deputy director for Procurement at the Bank of Uganda (BOU), who presented on the "Making of entrepreneurs, practical lessons, opportunities and challenges, also agreed with university leaders. Tuhaise said such a law will enable students easily have prior exposure to industry before they are employed.

“It is very true that some organisations do not allow interns and I find this very unfair. Most of the serious institutions today actually thrive on interns. [Interns] offer free labour, save time and add value to your organisation,” Tuhaise said.

She added that at BOU, students are each given Shs 100,000 as a token of appreciation for the work well done at the end of the one-month internship placement.

Before, students were offered five months on internship but due to the overwhelming numbers, the time frame was cut short to one month in order to accommodate more students.

According to Tuhaise, BOU gets an average of 1,000 applications for internship but they can comfortably handle 300 students every year from various higher education institutions.

For students who prove to be promising, she said, they have an opportunity to have their internship extended up to some time. Currently, Prof Lugujjo said, students must take advantage of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) which is also implementing a skills development facility that seeks to bridge the skills gap in various sectors of the economy.

“In the arrangement, PSFU encourages companies to take on interns especially in the recess periods,” he said.

POLICY EXPECTATIONS

In case government agrees to the universities proposal for a policy, Opuda-Asibo said government should be ready to forego some revenue to skill students.

“When the private sector offers a service on behalf of government, it expects to be rewarded in terms of tax holidays. To me, it would be very handy if government agrees to such a proposal,” he said.

He also expects to have mechanisms within the law to evaluate, control quality and clearly explain the responsibilities of the state, student, industry and universities during the internship period.

Opuda-Asibo told The Observer that the proposal for the law will also have what he described as a vocational educational enterprise where each private sector will have a room where skills of knowledge are brought to work, conduct hands-on training and mentorship for students.

In the meantime, Tuhaise urged universities to give students codes of conduct for various organisations before they are sent for internship.

“Sometimes, students come when they are so raw and become a problem,” she said. “Teach them how to present themselves well, be decent, respect their bosses and keep off their phones whenever they are assigned some duties so that they can even be retained in some places.”

nangonzi@observer.ug

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