DUB’s Internship Survey, part 2
Students find UU's internship supervision mediocre
Students are not exactly pleased with the supervision they get from the university, according to a survey of 210 students and graduates conducted by DUB. Although this is not a representative sample, the results are still worrying. Respondents who did a compulsory internship as part of their Bachelor’s or Master’s programme rated the university's supervision with a 6.2 on average. One in four internship supervisors got an unsatisfactory score. That's considerably lower than the grade given to the supervision received in the company or organisation, which was 7.0.
In this series, DUB is investigating the problems students run into during their internships. Part 1 is about how interns frequently feel as though they are being used for cheap labour: an excessive number of tasks, too much responsibility, long working days, and poor supervision are among the most common complaints. Here, in part 2, we're taking a look at the supervision provided by UU. Part 3 is about abusive situations experienced by the students, such as bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment.
The Faculty of Humanities is the one that received the best rating when it comes to internship supervision. They managed to get the same 7.0 as the companies. The Faculty of Medicine got a 6.2, while the Faculty of Science only scored a 6.0. The lowest grade went to the Faculty of Social Sciences, which got an average of 5.8. As for the remaining faculties, there were either too few respondents or the respondents did not do a compulsory internship. Some Bachelor’s students can do an internship as part of an elective course, for which they also receive supervision, but no average grade has been calculated for this.
There are several reasons for the mediocre assessment. For example, some students said that the information provided by the university about the internship and its requirements was unclear or sometimes even contradictory. As a result, one of the respondents reported that they felt unprepared for the internship.
Other respondents wrote that the university’s internship supervisors or study advisors couldn't do much for them. One student recollects that the supervisor tried to think along with them regarding what was going on in their workplace but the internship requirements couldn't be changed, which meant that the student had no choice but to complete the internship in order not to fall behind in their studies. Another student wrote that their frustration was acknowledged but that the high workload and long working hours were seen as “part of it”.
Differences in internship supervision
Internships have become more and more important in the curriculum in recent years, so much so that an increasing number of Bachelor’s programmes have established it as an elective subject. The programmes are responsible for determining what the internship supervision will look like as there is no university-wide policy on internships and the conditions internship supervision must meet.
DUB spoke with several programmes from all seven faculties and found out that the university’s supervision usually consists of the following components: an internship plan, an initial interview, interim evaluation meetings, a final interview and a reflection report. The university's internship supervisor will assess the student's performance based on an assignment or a reflection report, which also includes the assessment from the company or organisation where the internship took place.
Some study programmes have more components, while others have fewer. The intensity of the contact between the student and the internship supervisor also varies, as does the type of contact they have: meetings in real life, e-mails or Blackboard messages. In the Bachelor’s programme in Public Administration (Dutch acronym: B&O), for instance, interns have at least four appointments with their supervisor during the internship. For sociology students, guidance is more remote, with two short conversations online or in person.
At Human Geography & Planning, supervisors give both written and verbal feedback throughout the internship and students can either pass or fail their internship, without a specific grade. Prior to the internship, Human Geography & Planning students must attend several meetings with internship coordinators about the logistics of doing an internship. The internship consists of two blocks (15 credits) and internship supervisors dedicate 7 hours to each student.
At B&O, students can do an internship for one or two blocks but internship supervisors dedicate 10 hours to each student regardless of how many blocks they choose. In Sociology, supervisors get 3.5 hours per block (that's 7.5 credits). The programme is considering the possibility of expanding the number of hours.
Clinical programmes, such as Pharmaceutical Sciences, Veterinary Medicine and Medicine, require students to follow a residency. Students in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine do not have a one-on-one conversation with a supervisor from the university. The latter gets a supervisor at the veterinary clinic but not the university.
As for Pharmaceutical Sciences, a lecturer or internship supervisor from the university is responsible for assessing a file or online portfolio submitted by the student, which must also include the evaluation from the supervisor at the pharmacy where they worked. Pharmacy students are assigned to pharmacies that have a license to train students. If it is not a final internship, the student will only be assessed by the supervisor at the pharmacy. Teachers do not have a specific number of hours assigned to the supervision of each student.
Medicine students are intensely guided by both the university and the hospital. They receive feedback on the work floor and also have several conversations with internship supervisors. Ultimately, they are judged on whether they performed below, at or above the expected level. A six-week residency requires 12 hours of supervision at the Bachelor’s level and 18 hours at the Master’s level.
All study programmes consulted by DUB indicate that they get little to no complaints about internships from their students. Pharmaceutical Sciences only got four reports out of the 600 internships that took place in the 2022-2023 academic year.
The Faculty of Humanities has a relatively large number of internships, including at the Bachelor’s level. In recent years, efforts have been made to improve internship supervision. In 2016, Humanities was the first faculty to appoint internship coordinators for each department.
Media & Culture lecturer Sanne Sprenger has been an internship supervisor for fifteen years. She has assisted hundreds of students during their internships. When she started, she was assigned 4.5 hours per student but now she dedicates 8.8 hours per student for a 15-credit internship.
Internship lecturers at her faculty have been pushing for even more hours, because “good internship supervision takes much more time”. Sprenger acknowledges that internships "can be a defining moment for students. It’s an educational experience but they can also be vulnerable. That’s why it’s important that the guidance is clear and attentive.”
That's why the supervision received from the programme is intense. It includes an internship plan, a one-hour introductory meeting, several interim evaluations and a final interview with the internship supervisor at the location of the internship.
The university initially trains students for a position in academia, which in Sprenger's view, has caused internships to “not have been taken very seriously” as a way for students to orient themselves professionally. As a result, there have not been enough investments toward improving supervision.
Sprenger acknowledges that a committed internship supervisor can make all the difference. She supervises between thirty and fifty students a year. Approximately one out of five have problems at the organisation or company, so they need Sprenger to help out.
Most companies have workplace issues, which the student will encounter during their internship. “Usually there is a lack of communication, which leads the student not to feel at ease, make wrong assumptions and get stressed out. It's also pretty common for their supervisor on the job to suddenly leave for another company, even though the intern had just gotten started and they have little experience.”
Many of her students do internships for media companies, which are known for their high-pressure work environment. Interns are sometimes necessary just to keep things running. “Students are appeased with a lot of independence and responsibility, under the guise of extra challenge. But, this way, you risk overburdening them. Sometimes students are made responsible for tasks as if they already had a paid junior position in the organisation.”
Since many students hope that they will get a job there in the future, they tend to go along with the situation for way too long, even if the amount of work is too demanding for an internship. “The student thinks it’s an admission of weakness to bring it up, so they don’t do it and get stressed out, worried, and exhausted. The supervisor at the internship doesn’t always notice that because they are too busy themselves and, from the outside, the intern may seem to have things well under control.”
Sprenger makes sure to take her time to get to know the student in advance. She also encourages them to think about what they want to learn at the internship and what the purpose of the internship is for them.
“I try to make it clear to them that they are not doing an internship to show what they can do, but rather to figure things out. Students should try to stay in control of their learning curve at an internship. Otherwise, they will only do things not to disappoint their supervisors at the workplace.”
As for the students working overtime too often, Sprenger informs them of their rights. At Media & Culture, students are allowed to invest a maximum of 40 hours per week in an internship, including the logbooks, emails and conversations with the study programme. Companies are not allowed to let students work any additional hours unless the student agrees to it and the hours are compensated the following week.
In addition, Sprenger thinks along with the students about how they can best address problems at the internship. In most cases, the situation improves, but sometimes she still has to talk to the company herself.
She adds that internships can help students learn to set boundaries and realise to what extent they can push their limits, and then communicate it to their supervisors. Engaging in constructive discussions is an important learning opportunity, as is going through negative experiences. “It helps students if the university tells them to what extent interns can negotiate their learning objectives, tasks and working conditions. The chance of a disappointing first work experience is greater if the student does not get that.”
UU Rector Henk Kummeling says in a written response to DUB that “internships at UU are not organised at the central level but rather at the educational level because they are rarely compulsory. For study programmes where an internship is mandatory, the internship should fit within the learning objectives and targets of the programme. It is the responsibility of the programme to ensure that the goals are achieved and that the quality of the supervision is sufficient.” Commenting on DUB's Internship Survey, Kummeling says that “the signals that emerge from this questionnaire are new to us. Although the sample is not representative, we will use the results as an opportunity to discuss the topic again with our colleagues at the faculty level. We want to know whether they have perceived such signals and whether additional support is needed when it comes to internship supervision.”