The Intern


By Michael Ou

When I recall my undergraduate education, I immediately draw on rich experiences, theories, literature, and course content that still resonate with me today. But despite these fond memories, the arts degree which I obtained was far less beneficial in offering practical and professional experience in the form of field placements and internships. In contrast, undergraduate programs in the faculty of business and law offer internship and co-op opportunities to their students as integral components of attaining a degree (Wagner, 2000). Work-integrated learning (WIL) in the form of internships, co-op, and field placements can help students gain practical work experience, enhance their resumes, improve their employable skills, and also help in determining whether a potential career is a good fit (Sattler & Peters, 2013). In Ontario colleges, WIL is described as mandatory by 82% of WIL students, meanwhile in universities, half of WIL students voluntarily chose to participate in such programs (Sattler & Peters, 2013). Does this mean that practical experiences are more important at the college level than they are for university students? Or does this instead address a need for the integration of more WIL opportunities into Ontario universities? Theoretical training is a key component of a university education, but students attending Ontario universities are demanding more practical training because they want and expect their degrees to lead to employment (Dehaas, 2013). The issue of whether Ontario universities need to offer more opportunities for students to gain practical and field experience continues to generate debate and is worth exploring in further detail.    


Students attending Ontario universities want more practical training (Dehaas, 2013) therefore engaging in WIL will generate opportunities to acquire professional and practical experiences while also enabling a link between educational theories and practice (Westerberg & Wickersham, 2011).  Participation in WIL can also enable students and faculty the opportunity to collaborate while simultaneously building and strengthening relationships between the school and local community (Westerberg & Wickersham, 2011). Internships can also develop new skills, enhance or deepen areas of interest, and also aid in the exploration of possible career paths (Wagner, 2000). The opportunity to explore and practice in a chosen field of study will provide students with experiences which they can use towards shaping their future academic and professional goals.


A primary concern with internships is that there is no guarantee of  employment upon completion (Goar, 2013). In addition, the intern experience may also vary with some acquiring relevant job skills meanwhile others may end up running errands and engaging in tasks that are unrelated to their intended goals (Goar, 2013). Interns can also potentially be overworked (Westerberg & Wickersham, 2011) and/or expected to produce the same work as other paid staff members (McGuire, 2013). For students in Ontario, two main barriers for taking on an internship include the delay of degree completion (McGuire, 2013; Sattler & Peters, 2013) as well as an inability to afford taking on an unpaid internship (Sattler & Peters, 2013; Goar 2013).

More benefits

Although internships and field placements may be unable to guarantee immediate employment, they provide students with an opportunity to actively build their own professional networks and contacts outside of the academic institution (Wagner, 2000; Williams, 2010). Building a professional network can in turn provide students with potential prospects for future employment. Another perspective to consider is that academic and professional goals may also change with time and experience. WIL can help students understand that their developing skills may also complement alternate professional and academic opportunities that they may not have initially and previously considered  (Wagner, 2000).

So what can we do about this?

The content in this blog alone would be insufficient in determining the best way to implement more WIL opportunities into Ontario universities. Further research and a collaborative effort between students, universities, local businesses, stakeholders, and community leaders are essential in order to gain support for such an endeavour.

As the two defining barriers for engaging in WIL in Ontario universities are an unwillingness to prolong completion of a degree as well as a lack of funding (Sattler & Peters, 2013), there are opportunities to address these concerns. Ontario universities should provide more WIL opportunities for programs in the faculty of arts and social sciences where WIL programs are not as prevalent in comparison to business and law programs (Wagner, 2000). Universities can also provide further clarification on the requirements of WIL participation and also provide greater flexibility for academic scheduling to accommodate WIL programs (Sattler & Peters, 2013) and student schedules.

In terms of funding, scholarships or other forms of financial assistance should be considered as options for student support (Sattler & Peters, 2013). Partnerships with local businesses, government funding and collaboration with WIL programs are also worth exploring as avenues for student funding (Westerberg & Wickersham, 2011; Wagner, 2000). There is an opportunity here for Ontario universities to ensure that their students receive an education that is rich in experience, content and applicable towards their future academic and professional goals.


Dehaas, J. (2013, Sept 24). Law students push for more practical skills training. Macleans. Retrieved        from

Goar, C. (2013, Mar 11). Desperate graduates work for free. The Star. Retrieved from              

McGuire, M. (2013, June 24). Internship from hell. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from    

Sattler, P., & Peters, J. (2013). Work-integrated learning in Ontario’s postsecondary sector: The     experience of Ontario graduates (Research Publications). Toronto, ON: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Retrieved from

Wagner, R. (2000, August 4). How internships can open doors for new careers. Chronicle of Higher         Education. Retrieved from Doors/46291/

Westerberg, C., & Wickersham, C. (2011, April 24). Internships have value, whether or not students are   paid. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Williams, G. (2010, April 12). How to make a student internship successful. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from



2 thoughts on “The Intern

  1. Hey Michael, I really enjoyed your blog post. You have raised a very important issue. I am in full agreement with the claims that you have made. Ontario universities need to offer more opportunities for students to take part in experiential learning.

    Implications Surrounding Work-Integrated Learning:

    1.) WIL programs should have equal weightings “in the curriculum and given equal time for its assessment and the monitoring of quality control mechanisms” (Bohloko, 2012, p. 278).

    2.) Those participating in WIL programs need to have a “strong theoretical base” (Bohloko, 2012, p. 278).

    Many of the ideas in Kramer and Usher’s (2010) book titled, “Work-Integrated Learning and Career-Ready Students: Examining the Evidence,” were in line with the arguments made in your blog post. In the book it acknowledged that students studying humanities, social sciences and visual arts have the least involvement in work-integrated learning.

    So what can we do about this …

    1.) In addition to some of the ideas that you presented, Kramer and Usher (2010) suggested some alternate working experiences for students that do not have the opportunity to take part in WIL programs. More specifically, students can partake in institutionally-structured “work opportunities (paid or unpaid) that are related to their academic program and/or career interests” (p. 4). For example: placements, practicums, research assistantships, academic fieldwork and teaching assistantships are “linked to one’s field of study but don’t involve interaction with outside employers” (p. 4). In addition there are also opportunities (not structured by universities) that are similar to internships. For example: volunteering, in-school work and summer work (Kramer & Usher, 2010).

    2.) Perhaps Canadian universities should consider the WIL program at Simon Fraser University. This university is the leader in developing experiential learning opportunities. Their mission is to be “the leading university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research, and far-reaching community engagement” (Simon Fraser University, 2014). Take a moment to look at the way this university has structured their programs:


    Bohloko, G. M. (2012). Redefining work integrated learning in universities of technology. South African Journal Of Higher Education, 26(2), 268-281.

    Kramer, M., & Usher, A. (2010). Work-integrated learning and career-ready students: examining the evidence. Higher Education Strategy Associates.

    Simon Fraser University. (2014). A degree of experience. Retreived from:

  2. This is a good post Michael.

    I tend to see Work Integrated Learning, as Côté and Allahar (2011) do, as something that should exist within domains that fall outside the liberal arts, such as: law, medicine, engineering and other vocational programs that are often found in colleges. These programs require the acquisition of technical knowledge, they’re instrumental, and geared towards getting the job done.

    I see the liberal arts as domains that are meant to help learners critically analyse arguments, to communicate the ideas they have arrived at, to undergo an intellectual transformation.
    Liberal education and training are not unfriendly to one another and one is not better than the other; they merely represent different stages in one’s path of learning. As Côté and Allahar analogize, they are like apples and oranges, they are both good for you, they are just different.
    I think the type of transformation that takes place during a liberal education is important and I think it will be curtailed if internships replace courses.

    What is important is that students realize that a liberal education may not be a springboard into the workforce. What it will be is a reflective journey where they will begin to look at things in life in a new light. Wouldn’t you say this is a journey that should be protected?

    Côté, J. E., & Allahar, A.L. (2011). Lowering higher education: The rise of corporate universities and the fall of liberal education. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

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