Internship allowance fails to impress student unions

Students on industrial attachment from government universities and colleges will from August receive an allowance for transport needs and lunch at work. While the welfare of interns in Zimbabwe has been a major source of student unhappiness, student unions see the latest move as merely an election ploy.

Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira said the sum of the allowance would be determined in due course but would be decided by available funds.

“It is part of our 100-day plan to start giving the students on attachment a certain amount of money that will help them during their attachment.

“No matter how little the money might be, the principle is that they are going to receive the money based on what is available. We must at least facilitate their transport cost to and from work and the least money for lunch,” Professor Murwira told weekly publication The Sunday Mail.

Murwira’s higher education administration believes that allowances for students on industrial attachment have always been provided for in the Manpower Planning and Development Act, but were being abused under the government of former president Robert Mugabe.

The welfare of interns has become a major area of concern in student politics. Many interns are struggling to meet their living expenses during attachment because very few companies offer paid internship, compelling several students to give their labour for free.

Murwira has also announced that government is resuming the apprenticeship training programme in March. The programme was suspended a few years ago because only a few firms were remitting the 1% statutory training levy to the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund.

The decision to pay allowances to students on industrial attachment and the resumption of apprenticeships follow the government’s review of the A-Level STEM Initiative which provided financial support to high school pupils pursuing maths and science subjects, to ensure that ‘it’s beneficial to the country’s industrialisation and modernisation agenda’.

Last week Murwira officially announced that government had refocused the A-Level STEM Initiative introduced by his predecessor, Professor Jonathan Moyo.

He said there would not be funding for the new A-Level cohort for 2018 and that all irregular funding for students at private schools had been stopped. Pupils currently enrolled on the STEM Initiative would continue to be funded until they finished their studies.

Murwira said funds unlocked from the cessation of the A-Level STEM will be channelled towards crucial STEM areas within higher and tertiary education such as the development of STEM teachers, construction and equipping of science laboratories, establishment and equipping and operation of innovation hubs, expansion of skills development through increased apprenticeship enrolment, and support for higher and tertiary education students on attachment.

The Zimbabwe National Students’ Union secretary-general Ashley Pfunye dismissed the allowance by government as representing an ill-thought ‘welfarist approach’. He said the move was designed to lure student support.

“It’s a very strategic and political move to garner the student vote. Besides, there is no actual figure yet so it’s possible that the amount won’t be enough to cater for the necessary requirements. We will not be able to hold government to account because they have not mentioned a specific amount,” Pfunye told University World News.

He further noted that, for a long time, the struggle has not been about allowances but for a reduction in tuition fees while on attachment. “Universities should reduce tuition fees when students are serving internships to levels that are adequate to cover only assessments. They must also bring back the grant system.”

Pfunye, however, commended the renewal of the apprenticeship programme, saying it would stimulate technical knowledge and improve industrial production.

Students’ Voice secretary-general Shingirai Chabata also described the latest government efforts as a political ploy to woo student voters before the upcoming elections, but said students would nonetheless use the allowance to their benefit.

“It’s a political gimmick meant to hoodwink students into voting for them. Where were they all along when students have been complaining about these issues?”

He said students want grants that will enable them to pay for high tuition fees and finish their higher education, not allowances promised before an election.