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Adult Education and Work Contexts: International Perspectives and Challenges

Comparative Perspectives from the 2017 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer and Monica Fedeli

Adult education has deep connections with employment contexts. This volume discusses interrelations within transnational contexts studied during the Würzburg Winter School on Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning (COMPALL). The book shows that adult education and work contexts are influenced by international and transnational developments. The findings are presented in three chapters: Lifelong Learning Policies Targeting Employment Contexts; Transnational Perspectives on Lifelong Learning Policies; Employment Perspectives and Professionalisation in Adult Education.

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Learning and work: Efficacy of university internships for syrian and ugandan education students (Robert Jjuuko / Zahia Alhallak / Concetta Tino)

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Robert Jjuuko, Zahia Alhallak & Concetta Tino

Learning and work: Efficacy of university internships for syrian and ugandan education students

Abstract: Internships and related strategies within the work-related learning umbrella are credited for bridging university education and the world of work. From a comparative perspective, this paper, based on an interview study, discusses the Syrian university internship model for students in teacher education and the Ugandan university internship model in adult and community education.


Ongoing changes in society inevitably alter workplace requirements to the extent that even university graduates with the most job-specific qualifications need an orientation to match the demand. For decades, higher education has been under pressure from industry leaders to prepare work-ready graduates (Brown, Hesketh, & Williams, 2003; EU Skills Panorama, 2014). In Uganda and Syria, there are renewed concerns over the quality of higher education and the increasing number of unemployed university graduates (El-Araby, 2011; Nuwagaba, 2012). As articulated by Moore and Morton (2017), the cost of poor work-readiness ‘not only holds graduates back from gaining satisfactory employment, but also has an inhibiting effect on the performance of employing organisations, and ultimately the broader economy’ (p. 592).

The study is a contribution to a better analysis of how universities attempt to bridge higher education and the world of work. It builds on the collective learning of a group of master’s and doctoral students from five countries (Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Syria, and Uganda) who focused on work-related learning and teaching methods within the framework of the 2017 International Winter School on Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong (COMPALL) at the University of Würzburg.

The study explores and examines the efficacy of university internships for Syrian and Ugandan degree students in teacher education and in adult and community education, respectively. The main question is: ‘How are university internship programmes at the two case-study universities organised, and how do they manage to promote the work-readiness of students?’ The study, which focuses more on ← 183 | 184 → the process and less on the outcome or impact of internships, seeks to understand the experiences and perceptions of key stakeholders regarding the efficacy of internships in the two countries.

Theoretical framework

Tackling the education-to-work transition challenges of university students is a global topical issue with varied practical and theoretical dimensions for education and employment systems, policies and practices (Boffo, Federighi, & Torlone, 2015). Therefore, the labour market increasingly challenges the curriculum and pedagogical autonomy of universities (Ayoubi, Al Zarif, & Khalifa, 2017; European Commission, 2014; Boden & Nedeva, 2010). Work readiness and employability, often used interchangeably, are the common concepts that communicate the demand for education and training to ensure that students are fit for the labour market (Harvey, 2003; WEF, 2014).

Besides job-specific technical competence, graduates are expected to possess specific skills, which are variedly labelled with terms ranging from soft, generic, transferable to social skills (Crebert, 2004; Hogan, Chamorro-Premuzic, & Kaiser, 2013). These skills include intrapersonal and emotional intelligence, literacy and communication practices, good personal judgement, self-management, leadership, and lifelong learning tools (Bennet, 2002; Shoenfelt, Kottke, & Stone, 2012). To ensure work-ready graduates, universities have had to rethink teaching and learning approaches (Yorke & Knight, 2006), including the adoption of work-related learning methods among other options. The core of work-related learning pedagogy is the enhancement of the interconnectedness of learning and workplace realities (Frison, Fedeli, & Taylor 2015).

Adult education as an academic discipline has embraced a pluralism of theories such as experiential learning, situated learning, and communities of practice, which feature the core tenets of participation and collaboration; and these, of course, are connected to work-related learning and internships in particular (Wenger, 1998). Internships as a prevalent work-related learning model offer students the opportunity to learn with and from the community of professionals (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Mihail, 2006). Understood and designed in various ways, internships in the context of this discussion refer to mandatory work experiences or placements within a higher education curriculum framework but operating outside the direct routine authority of the university (Bullock, 2009). Besides, we acknowledge the range of university internship variants as defined by formats relating to timing, duration, location, credit-bound, and intern remuneration (Holdaway, Johnson, Ratsoy, & Friesen, 1994). ← 184 | 185 →

A selective review of the literature on mandatory university internships in a range of disciplines from medicine, nursing, law, hospitality, food, finance to education points to two interrelated themes: (i) mutual benefits to students, employers and universities, and by extension the interplay of their roles and that of state actors; (ii) conditions, opportunities, and challenges in enhancing the value, effectiveness, and impact of internships (Maskooki, Rama, & Raghunandan, 1998; McNamara, 2009; Walmsley, Rhodri, & Jameson, 2012; Shoenfelt et al., 2012). The literature points out the conditions that influence the efficacy of internship processes as well as the shortcomings associated with weak design and delivery approaches. These dimensions effectively bring into context two comparative categories, namely the role of actors and policy, which were part of the focus for the the comparative group work during the 2017 Würzburg Winter School on Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning.

From the literature, we derive four parameters for constructing an internship quality framework, which also contains links to the efficacy dimensions informing the data collection tool we used in this study. The framework is helpful in designing an enabling environment for the three most important stakeholders (students, universities, and employers) to effectively fulfil their respective roles and responsibilities (Divine, Miller, Wilson, & Linrud, 2008). First, is a strong university-industry partnership, which provides an enabling institutional arrangement to galvanise the interests and aspirations of students, universities, employers, and the industry in general (Feldmann, Folks, & Turneley, 1999). The partnership is useful for enforcing rules and procedures for ensuring compliance with quality standards and agreed-upon work and learning standards. Second, academic preparedness and relevance are core considerations, because they facilitate students’ learning and adaptation to new professional realities at the workplace. Internship activities and tasks ought to be relevant to the academic discipline and within reasonable limits and breadth of students’ competence. Workplace supervisors ought to guide interns through their zone of proximal development (Fernández, Guerrón-Quintana, Kuester, & Rubio-Ramírez, 2015; Warford, 2011). Third, professional support and assessment provided by highly qualified university and workplace supervisors who understand the epistemologies of workplace learning are central. Valuable internships often embrace student’s autonomy, collegial work relationships, social support, authentic learning opportunities, scaffolding, and mentorship. Assessment strategies need to be clarified and shared in order to inform the grading so as to offer meaningful guidance for students’ career trajectory (Gault, Redington, & Schlager, 2000). Fourth, ensuring prompt and adequate resources to meet the professional, logistical, and personal needs of students, university staff in charge of internships, ← 185 | 186 → and workplace supervisors is paramount. Time, space, and related facilities for workplace supervisors to effectively provide required guidance as well as all the pedagogical and logistical support for university supervisors combine to influence the quality of internship processes and outcomes (Holdaway et al., 1994).

Study context

Two case-study universities (Damascus University in Syria and Kyambogo University in Uganda) were selected to constitute the study focus and defining entities to identify and locate participants. Syria, a former French colony with about 21 million inhabitants by 2011, is one of the Middle East and North Africa countries with the highest youth unemployment rates in the world (European Training Foundation, 2012). The first university was established in 1920s, and until 2001, when the state adopted a neoliberal social economy to license private universities, higher education was state controlled and publicly financed (El Hassan, 2013). After obtaining a General Secondary Education (GSE) Certificate, students are eligible for a four- to five-year university degree course. Damascus University is the largest and oldest public university in the country; and it is not so much affected by the war conditions as the other universities in the country due to its location in the heart of the capital, which is relatively safe. The focus of this study is the internship programme by the Primary School Teacher Education Department in the Faculty of Education, which is a compulsory component of the four-year undergraduate degree in education. Officially referred to as practical education, it is designed for students to work in primary schools to get exposure to the school environment, the teaching process, and a real-world experience (Mutlak, 2010).

Uganda, a British colony until 1962 with about 35 million people according to the 2012 census, is one of the youngest countries in the world. The country’s higher education journey started when the colonial government established a technical school in 1922, later transformed into a university in the 1960s (Tumuheki, 2017). Owing to its liberalisation policy, the Ugandan government opened up higher education provision to the private sector in the 1990s; by 2007, over 37 institutions of higher learning had been licensed. While the state retains its regulatory function, financing and delivery is largely private (National Council for Higher Education, 2007). Ugandan secondary students are eligible for a three- to five-year undergraduate degree course after obtaining a good Uganda Advanced School of Education Certificate. Kyambogo University is one of the seven state-controlled universities in the country, and it is organised in six faculties. Internships are increasingly becoming a common feature across all faculties. The three-year Bachelor of Adult and Community Education degree features a mandatory internship component. ← 186 | 187 →


This paper is based on data and information generated through a qualitative case study methodology that enabled internship supervisors, students, and graduates to narrate and describe their experiences and perceptions (Baxter & Jack, 2008). The comparative perspective of the study was aimed at illuminating the forces and factors that define and influence the differences and similarities between the internship practices of the two universities (Bray, Adamson, & Mason, 2014; Reischmann, 2011). A search and review of relevant macro- and meso-level documents was undertaken to gain insights into how the internships under study are being organised and managed (Table 1).

Table 1: List of secondary data sources.

Type of documentCountryTitle
Central Government Statutory Instrument – policyUgandaCircular Standing Instruction No. 3 of 2011: Internship placements in the Public Service
Central Government Pronouncement – policyUgandaMinistry of Education and Sports Ministerial Policy Statement Financial Year 2017/2018, presented to parliament for the budget debate
University operational policyUgandaKyambogo University Strategic Plan 2012/13–2022/23
University operational policyUgandaKyambogo University Guidelines on Management of Kyambogo University Examinations and Processing of Results
University guide for workplace supervisorsUgandaStudents field work assessment form for agency/organisation supervisor
University guide for studentsUganda & SyriaFieldwork report form (UG)

Practical education report form (SY)
University guide for university supervisors Uganda & SyriaSupervision sheet (UG)

Practical education progress report form (SY)
University guide for university supervisors Uganda & SyriaHow fieldwork is supervised (UG)

Assessment template (SY)

Source: Authors’ own

A purposive sampling approach was used to achieve maximum variation in the selection of study participants (Coyne, 1997). 18 participants were selected in equal proportions from Uganda and Syria, as indicated in Table 2. As indicated ← 187 | 188 → in the table, the role of each category of participants has immense influence on the value and efficacy of internships.

Table 2: Research participants.

Category of actors: 9 for each countrySampleReason
Workplace internship supervisors4They are directly responsible for supporting and guiding students during the internship placement period. They possess first-hand perspectives on the students’ behaviour, performance, and learning practices.
University internship supervisors4They directly deal with students’ internship needs and requirements in line with the university internship programme; their insights into the factors influencing internship efficacy are crucial.
University internship coordinators2 On behalf of the university and faculty, they play a supervisory role in ensuring compliance with technical and administrative procedures. Their perspectives on the policy and governance implications for internships are essential in fully understanding the practice.
Current students4Their fresh memories of their internship experience and what they are going through at the university helps to give the study a current perspective.
Graduates4Graduates’ reflections on their internship experience in relation to current life and work realities are helpful in examining the usefulness of internships.

Source: Authors’ own

The participants were engaged, between March and April 2017, in standardised open-ended interviews that helped to yield in-depth and contextual evidence on the state of internship programmes at the two universities. The interview protocol had three sections: (i) basic data about the participant, (ii) internship in practice with eight questions, and (iii) personal view and reflections about the internship experience with four questions. ‘Interviews enable participants to discuss their interpretations of the world in which they live, and to express how they regard situations from their own point of view.’ (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007, p. 349)

In Uganda, the main author, supported by a research assistant, conducted face-to-face interviews with the participants. Informed consent was sought beforehand, and all participants agreed to have sessions captured by handwriting and voice recorder. In Syria, the researcher used the WhatsApp voice-call platform to conduct interviews with six participants who had Internet access and transcribed ← 188 | 189 → the interviews. To reach the others, without Internet access, a research assistant who lives in Syria conducted face-to-face interviews with three participants, transcribed them, and sent them to the researcher.

Data organisation and analysis was undertaken within the generic qualitative data analysis framework and procedure. 18 transcripts were created, and rigorous coding was undertaken. Emerging codes were grouped into themes. The themes were further analysed and interpreted to describe the experiences and perceptions of stakeholders.

Internships in education studies in Uganda and Syria

Findings are organised and presented under eight headings, namely governance and management; aim, objectives, and benefits; financing; timing and duration; tasks and skills; supervision and support; assessment and grading; challenges. Case internships are from two contexts: a primary school teacher education degree course at Damascus University in Syria, and an adult and community education degree at Uganda’s Kyambogo University.

In Syria, primary schools are required by the Ministry of Education to provide internship placements for education students. In Uganda, students search for placements themselves in all sorts of government and non-government institutions. In both countries, the university writes a recommendation letter that the students use to apply for placements.

Governance and management

In both countries, there are related policies and rules, but they are not firmly mainstreamed and enforced, which impacts internship governance and management. In Uganda, the most significant high-level state policy on university internships, in recent times, is reflected in a ministerial statement to the parliament that ‘for the inadequate opportunities for internships in public universities […] it is partnering with Uganda Manufacturers Association to find placements for students […] (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2017, p. 28). In its 10-year strategic plan ending in 2023, Kyambogo University plans to place students through memorandums of understanding with employers, but no substantive policy is in place to implement this strategy. In 2011, the government issued Standing Instruction No. 3 to regulate the collaboration between public service institutions and training institutions. None of the interviewed stakeholders expressed awareness of this policy.

University supervisors, students, and graduates mentioned some departmental guidelines relating to the daily routines of students and basic supervision tips. The ← 189 | 190 → one Ugandan university supervisor who said that there existed an explicit Faculty Industrial Training and Community School Practice Policy was contradicted by his colleagues who denied knowledge of such a policy framework. Indeed, no documentary evidence could be obtained apart from the supervision leaflets and forms issued by the department. In addition, workplace supervisors do not have a formal internship policy. Syrian students mentioned some rules relating to intern obligations and grading procedures by the supervisors. The university supervisors singled out the rules relating to their roles. Workplace supervisors presented modified extracts relating to the expected conduct of interns.

Aim, objectives, and benefits

Both Syrian and Ugandan university supervisors mentioned that the aim of internships is to enable students to do the practical tasks related to their future jobs and to obtain the required skills. They argued that the aim is to link theoretical knowledge with practical experience.

Current students and graduates shared similar views but added the benefits of minimising the anxiety associated with job market entry and of generating a positive attitude and self-confidence through exploring the work environment. Syrian workplace supervisors consider internship programmes a way to help the schools keep up with modern methods and benefit from young students’ ideas and energy. They also consider it a duty and social responsibility. The Ugandan workplace supervisor talked about his organisations’ new thinking about internships as a recruitment strategy. One of them said: ‘Some interns have been retained in the teaching department; we have five teachers, in social work, I am one of them.’


In both Syria and Uganda, internship financing is a shared responsibility. The students and/or their sponsors meet the costs related to their transport to and from workplaces at host institutions. In both cases, universities pay for transport and related experiences to facilitate lecturers who are assigned to visit and supervise the students on internships. In Syria, internship placements are guaranteed free of charge by schools in accordance with the directive of the Ministry of Education. Teaching-learning materials for internships are provided by workplace institutions. University supervisors in both countries mentioned inadequate financing, which impacts the value and effectiveness of internship programmes. ← 190 | 191 →

Timing and duration

In both countries, internships are organised after students have been exposed to the basics of their professions. In Syria, internships are undertaken in the second semester of the third year and in the first and second semesters of the fourth year, which translates into three to four weeks. Ugandan students take their ten-week internships in the second semester of the second and third years. The university supervisors explained that starting the internship in the second and subsequent academic years is appropriate, because students need to complete some courses and obtain the basic academic information related to concepts, theories, strategies, and methods.

Tasks and skills

In both cases, internship tasks are determined within the context of the routine operations of workplace institutions, and largely determined by the workplace supervisors. The role of university supervisors in this regard is apparently mute. The Syrian students and graduates mentioned lesson planning and teaching as the main internship tasks. Both workplace and university supervisors said that students undertake all the roles related to the teacher position in class and outside the class, including taking notes, observing, and taking charge of their work. Ugandan interns and supervisors mentioned more engagement in administrative tasks and generic duties than in discipline-based tasks. Students in both countries said that they developed a range of generic skills and attributes including self-confidence and communication skills.

Supervision and support

University supervision is mainly through support visits to interns by university supervisors. While interns are visited four times in a month in Syria, their Ugandan counterparts are visited once or twice during the entire internship period. Short sessions of not more than 30 minutes are held to provide feedback for Ugandan interns; their Syrian counterparts receive weekly sessions of 20–30 minutes in the first two semesters, while in the last third semester, they send a video recording of their school working hours to the university supervisors. Workplace supervisors support interns through the assignment of tasks and subsequent follow-ups, but within the framework of their work routines. Ugandan university supervisors mentioned using telephone and e-mails in providing support and guidance to their students. One of them mentioned the use of social media, including a WhatsApp group to stay in constant contact. ← 191 | 192 →

Assessment and grading

In both cases, internship assessment results constitute part of the overall course grading and academic award, and university supervisors take the final decision on the final grade for students’ internship performance. In Uganda, the university issues an assessment grid for both the university and workplace supervisors. In addition to the assessment of their daily and routine performance, students are required to write an internship report, which is assessed and graded; it constitutes 60% of the overall grade.


Participants mentioned a number of challenges across the two countries. The relationship between universities and the host institutions is largely loose without firm institutional arrangements to enforce the required partnership. This has multiple effects on the quality of relationships between the interns, the supervisors, and entire work practices. In Syria, the student teachers are more or less visitors, because there is no real integration into the work environment. The Ugandan experience might be slightly better; it is only contextual and dependent on the discretional approach of workplace supervisors. In both countries, limited financial resources for supervision affect the regularity and quality of the guidance and feedback provided by both workplace and university supervisors.

Crowded workplaces due to the ever-increasing number of students seeking internships undermine the primary purpose of contributing to the development of students’ work readiness. In Uganda, adult and community education students compete for internship placements with their counterparts from other social science disciplines. Syrian primary schools providing internship placements for Damascus University students are crowded with pupils, owing to the increasing number of internally displaced families from other cities and schools. Likewise, the increasing number of trainees who leave their universities to join Damascus University put extra weight and responsibilities on the schools and the university.


This section deals with the socio-economic and political forces that influence internship practices in the two country case studies with a focus on two main categories for comparison: the role of actors and policy, as extrapolated around five aspects (i) weak management manifested by limited awareness of rules and regulations; (ii) inadequate financing; (iii) unbalanced relationship between university ← 192 | 193 → and internship host institutions; (iv) strength and intensity of supervision and support; and (v) academic relevance of internship activities and tasks.

The similarly limited awareness of the rules and regulations in both countries is not only caused by the endemic structural weakness of the state and its institutions – which can be ascribed to the diminishing coordination capacity and directive role of state institutions to ensure compliance with rules and regulations in Uganda, and to the long civil strife and violence in Syria – but is also determined at the micro level. Supervisors, in fact, in a perceived laissez-faire dimension, choose how to implement the internship programme, how to provide guidance and feedback to students, and how to realise the aim of current education.

A second similarity in both countries is the inadequate funding of internships even if final internship assessment results are a mandatory requirement in the overall grading and academic award across both cases. The common cause at the macro level was underlined by participants; namely, the diminished role of the state in financing university education amidst the liberalisation and massification of higher education. These budget cuts seem to mirror a political idea of privatisation, which does not consider revamping the higher education system to be one of the state’s main objectives.

Stronger supervision and monitoring in Syria as compared to Uganda is attributable to the institutional framework of the Syrian Ministry of Education with its controlling influence on primary schools. In contrast to the adult and community education course, which is not assigned to any specific ministry without such an infrastructure, enforcement of a similar policy is not tenable. Student teachers’ engagement in relevant academic activities and tasks during the internship period at primary school is in sharp contrast with student adult educators in Uganda, whose diverse disciplinary background and lack of a strong home ministry lead to engagement in largely generic community mobilisation tasks. These differences are determined by choices at the macro level, because it seems that the two countries have different aims: the centralisation of the education system in Syria and a possible orientation towards privatisation or the autonomy of higher institutions.

The dominant role of universities versus the weak role of host institutions on matters relating to internship design, including assessment and grading in both cases, is attributable to the long tradition giving universities unrivalled authority in determining who passes examinations and who does not. In Syria, where the university works with primary schools, the asymmetrical relationship between the two categories of actors cannot allow for equal responsibility and authority. In Uganda, workplace supervisors and their institutions offer internship placements just as a gesture of goodwill, but without strong awareness of the importance to ← 193 | 194 → create a strong partnership for quality internship experiences. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the universities’ weak institutional framework regarding internships in both countries is a reflection of poor governance and leadership that characterise public higher university education. Internship management and programmes do not have enforceable quality assurance parameters. The universities’ dominance further points to a legacy of separate worlds of education and work, which again is a result of a deficiency in the policies at macro, meso, and micro levels.

Conclusion and recommendations

The required enabling environment for internships to effectively contribute to students’ work readiness for the primary education sector in Syria and the adult and community education field of practice in Uganda is at variance with ideal conditions, particularly in regard to governance, resources, and optimum university-industry relationships. Amidst the prevailing conditions, stakeholders expressed trust and conviction regarding the value and usefulness of internships in supporting the transition of young adults from university into their profession and work life. In unison, students and graduates affirmed that internships are important for their career growth and development.

On the overall, the efficacy of the case-study university internships, as judged from the perspectives of our framework of four parameters, is highly questionable. Besides, there are great possibilities for increased effectiveness and usefulness of internships once deliberate efforts are taken to design internships with clear quality indicators and outcomes. The study findings and reviewed literature corroborate this finding in their emphasis on the core aspects of: strong university-industry partnerships; academic preparedness and relevance; professional support and assessment; and prompt and adequate resources. Traditional adult learning epistemologies and principles including participation, cooperation, and partnership (as included by several theoretical frameworks such as situated learning, communities of practice, and experiential learning) need to inform the university internship architecture much as they are located in a ‘school education regime’.

Tackling the internal challenges of education systems can always yield tangible results once external structural forces are equally resolved. Uganda’s private-sector-led economy and a liberalised education model characterised by a laissez-faire internship regime need a competent state to claim some degree of an interventionist character to facilitate university-industry partnerships. In addition to dealing with inherent political, cultural, and economic structural limitations like those in Uganda, Syria needs a stable government for education and employment systems to effectively support young adults in translating their skills into life and working ← 194 | 195 → contexts. Internships can effectively help students of both countries to develop the much-needed soft skills for their occupation and social mobility in schools and communities as well as in the larger employment contexts.


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