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Virtual internship presents dilemma for Makerere University students

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A decision by Makerere University to impose internship, field attachments and recess during the ongoing lockdown has put students at crossroads. The University council has reportedly advised students to remotely work with their hosts or design projects per deliverables approved by supervisors.

Reports indicate that the decision was approved by the university council which sat last month and subsequently communicated to the principals of colleges and deans of schools. Professor Umar Kakumba, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in-charge of Academic Affairs says that the university has also secured approval from the Ministry of Education to run the program.

Professor Kakumba says that students who can secure placement can start their internship immediately and agree on an approach with the companies where they are placed. He adds that amidst the COVID-19 threats which have forced companies to downsize, interns could also consider working from home if it’s applicable in the organizations.

He adds that students are also at liberty to either participate in university staff-led projects to undertake activities with clear deliverables approved by the college internship committees or form small work groups on work-based assignments and present before the internship committee.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor adds that different colleges and schools have already picked favourable packages which can be suitable for their students citing an example of the law school which will be giving student projects to assess and write reports.

The university has excluded a few programmes like forestry and agriculture given the fact their fieldwork programme is residential. Similarly, student teachers will have to wait until when schools are reopened for them to take on their teaching practice.

But Marion Kirabo, a fourth-year student of law and the Guild Minister for Gender, Ethics, and Integrity, says that working remotely could mean that students need to have equipment and internet connection. Kirabo fears that such an arrangement could leave a number of students behind.

Makerere University Guild President Julius Kateregga says that although some students would like to support the idea, it might be hard for them to get placements amidst the challenges brought about by the lockdowns.

“Are the companies ready to give students placement to carry this so-called virtual internship? Do students even know how to use the said remote tools? At which expense will this be, who will facilitate the students in terms of internet data among other things? All this needed to be considered,” Kateregga said.

But Professor Kakumba says that the university is planning to have a flexible programme to allow students who may not complete with the usual six to eight weeks to be accorded a remedial extension programme. He states that this will be done without penalties.

With the assurance on the extension of the programme, some students like Johnson Obbo have found it fair noting that those who feel like the situation may warrant them to proceed with the internship should go on whereas others who can’t, wait for the situation to normalize.

Meanwhile, Kateregga raises concerns on how the university management will handle international students and how it will facilitate supervisors to reach out to all students who are scattered all over the country.

But Prof Kakumba, who pleads to the students to view the initiative positively says that the international students will as well have to take a project from their respective home countries and be assessed later.

Makerere is the first university in the country to approve the implementation of internship, field attachments, and recess during the ongoing lockdown.

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