Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
COVID-19 has negatively impacted on university students on attachment as most of them had their internships cut short as companies scaled down operations.
Most companies have been operating with skeletal staff to decongest the workplace to mitigate against the spread of the deadly virus.
Interns are among the worst affected as some could not complete industrial training.
Industrial training is a prerequisite before students graduate in various degree programmes in the country.
Some of the students who were supposed to have completed their industrial training at the end of this month did not even commence training.
The students expressed concern that this could result in them deferring studies indefinitely.
National University of Science and Technology (Nust) chemical engineering student Mr Ryan Katayi said the Covid-19-induced lockdown will impact on the quality of graduates’ universities will produce in the next year or so.
Already, there is a concern that some of the graduates being produced by institutions are failing to cope with industry demands.
Mr Katayi said most students were supposed to have commenced their industrial training last year in August but got places between January and February this year.
“Due to the prevailing climate most students got their attachment in January or February of which lockdown was effected at the end of March. This resulted in many companies laying off many workers starting with the interns. From my class, I think 60 percent were laid off which meant that some of them had two months of exposure in the workplace before being laid off,” said Mr Katai.
“So, they didn’t get the overview of learning. My course is a five-year degree and the fourth year is very essential because it generally puts everything that you have been learning for the past three years and that you are going to learn in the final year into perspective. It also directs the kind of final year project that you are going to put up. So, not having gotten that hands-on experience will affect our overall training.”
Lupane State University development studies student Mr Mbongeni Mpofu said he failed to start attachment due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I had been given a place to conduct my internship at a local non-governmental organisation in April. But due to Covid-19, I could not commence my work-related training, as they scaled down operations. Even my colleagues who were already on attachment had their internship stopped while others were told that they would be working from home. But working from home defeats the whole purpose of industrial attachment as there would be no proper supervision,” he said.
Mr Mpofu said while the students have been affected by the pandemic, the institution has not communicated on how they will proceed with their academic training.
Nust student representative council president Mr Innocent Dombo said while students have been affected by Covid-19 measures, Nust has been very flexible in assisting them.
Mr Dombo said as opposed to demanding that students undergo a mandatory eight-month training programme, the university was addressing individual cases as they came.
“I think our departments at Nust have been very flexible in dealing with students on attachment who were affected at their place of training. Some organisations have been flexible enough to introduce working from home so students have had different experiences altogether,” said Mr Dombo.
Nust acting marketing and communications director Mr Thabani Mpofu said he could only provide a detailed response today, although revealing that he knew that the university had taken a position on students on attachment regarding the Covid-19 pandemic impact.
LSU director of marketing and communication Mr Zwelithini Dlamini could not be reached for comment as his cellphone rang unanswered.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira said universities are expected to handle challenges affecting students in their studies.
He said policy allows for the disruption of normal programming during a disaster and this will be considered if students face challenges in getting industrial training.
“The issue is basically that if it is impossible to get attachment because of Covid-19 situation that we are in, we invoke a regulation that would be used to the students’ advantage. Or we expose them to a practical that is not attached to a company,” said Prof Murwira.
“The way we coin regulations in universities, we coin them in such as a way that they take care of those situations. There is what we call suspension of regulations. Its an emergency regulation that we apply because every regulation has to be to the advantage of the student.” — @nqotshili