Internship grants aim to produce work-ready graduates

The Association of African Universities, or AAU, has intensified its support for students from member institutions to help them acquire employable skills before graduating from universities.

Aimed at postgraduate students, the AAU Graduate Internship Grant is supported by the African Capacity Development Foundation and Swedish International Development Agency, or SIDA, and offers small grants of up to US$600 per student. Applications close on 19 May.

Acquiring employable skills before graduating from universities is critical, according to AAU project officer Ransford Bekoe who said communication skills, teamwork, analytical skills and hands-on experience were normally not taught or experienced in the course of academic programmes, except in a few disciplines.

“The AAU wants to use the internship programme to encourage African higher education institutions to link more effectively with industry and other sectors to prepare university outputs for the world of work,” said Bekoe.

According to Bekoe, there are several studies identifying what employers require of their new employees and, among the requirements, skills rank above academic qualifications.

Fresh graduates without work experience are often greenhorns who need time to adapt to their work environments, he said.

“Some of them would have to be retrained by employers … There is need to have competent persons already prepared from the universities instead of having them retrained after completion of school. It is both time consuming and costly,” he said.

According to Bekoe, employers seek competent staff who are ready to carry out the mission of their employer. A blend of academic work and job experience before graduation prepares the graduates to structure and refine their thoughts on the issues on the job-market before they complete.

“This programme is challenging African universities to be more proactive in producing graduates who are ready for the job market, either as employees or as self-starters. They need some basic skills, other than classroom knowledge, to start,” he told University World News.

By not excluding any discipline for the internships, and by showcasing the stories from the interns, the AAU is urging African universities to engage more thoroughly with external stakeholders to create synergetic relationships.

The move is significant for Africa’s socioeconomic development as there can be no development without human resources, and higher education is responsible for producing people who have analytical and problem-solving skills – be they in the physical or social sciences or other disciplines, according to Bekoe.

The programme is open to graduates from AAU member institutions all over Africa. It is competitive but there will be gender, language and geographic considerations in the final selection.

The deadline for application is Friday 19 May 2017 and there are several conditions for the award of the grant. While the grant applicants should be students pursuing postgraduate degree programmes, the grants are for training purposes only and not meant for the completion of theses or dissertations.

Consideration will be given to applicants who have no practical work experience.