Mandatory student internships under fire

CHINA - Lawyers and students from universities in Gansu and Henan provinces are asking the authorities to strengthen supervision of mandatory student internships and create legislation to address abuses.

The lawyers and students say internships should be voluntary and schools should not force students to do internships, as current laws and regulations stipulate.

But Yin Kun, a senior student from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, said he was forced to become an intern.

"I am now doing an internship at a subdistrict office of the community, which was arranged by my faculty," he said.

"All of my classmates are assigned to work in different communities for about two months. The faculty doesn't permit us to look for internships ourselves."

Yin said the students didn't sign any agreements with the faculty or the communities and don't get any pay except for a transportation allowance of 2 yuan (S$0.40) a day.

"This kind of internship is totally unrelated to our major. We didn't have any part in the communication between the school and these communities," Yin said. "If there is an incident during the internship, I don't know who should be responsible."

Yin's story was corroborated by Liu Weiyi, a student from another university in Gansu.

"During the mandatory internship, students often don't sign labour contracts with the company. They get no salary and their rights to education and work can't be guaranteed", Liu said.

Such mandatory internships are not isolated cases. The media have reported that thousands of students from Xi'an Technological University North Institute of Information Engineering have been forced to do internships at the Yantai branch of Foxconn Group, an electronics manufacturing giant.

The students are put on an assembly line, doing simple and repetitive work for an average of 11 hours a day. Any student who quits the internship loses skill credits and can't graduate.

The physically demanding labour once hospitalized six interns in a week.

Liu said current regulations on internships are flawed. Shortcomings include the issue of employee injury insurance during the internship and whether the working conditions and hours are legal. There are no specific and concrete laws or regulations covering school-organised internships, Liu added.

Li Fangping, a lawyer from Beijing Ruifeng law firm, said mandatory internships are spreading nationwide. The administrative departments of education should strengthen the supervision and regulation of schools that force students to do internships, Li added.

Li said the Ministry of Education should issue a nationwide regulation to address this problem, listing the rights and obligations of each party and standardizing the behaviour of schools, and give students a legal means to safeguard their rights and interests.

Bai Yan, vice-president of the Shaanxi postal workers' union, is sympathetic to the students' complaints. He said that the interns should also get pay or subsidies.

Bai Guixiang, the union president from a branch company of Gansu Yinguang chemical industry group, said a school should take on the responsibility of negotiating with a company if students' rights are infringed.

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