Concordia student associations gather to discuss the future of internships at the university
Huddled around a rectangular table in the Hive Café downtown, executives from various Concordia student associations discussed the future of internships at the university on Jan. 16. The congress, organized by the Concordia Student Union (CSU), followed through on the union’s campaign promise to end unpaid internships. Although it was geared toward student executives, the congress was open to the public.
The representatives of each association took turns discussing how internships work in their respective programs and how they could be improved. Asma Mushtaq, the CSU’s academic and advocacy coordinator, explained that while internships “might appear more manageable on paper,” they do not properly capture the “real student experience.”
This so-called “real student experience” varies greatly from program to program. According to Mushtaq, during the preliminary awareness campaign regarding unpaid internships, many students were shocked to learn that unpaid internships are required for graduation in some departments, despite other students getting paid up to $20 an hour for internships. “We’re trying to bring more consistency,” Mushtaq said.
Many students have reported that Concordia’s early childhood and elementary education program is notoriously demanding in its internship requirements. Sydney Daoust-Filiatrault, the vice-president of the newly created Early Childhood and Elementary Education Student Association (ECEESA), explained that to graduate from the program, students must complete five unpaid internships over four years.
Toward the end of their degree, students are expected to complete three internships, working 25 hours per week for eight weeks. These internships only count for three credits, and students are also obliged to attend a weekly three-credit seminar. This means that, to be considered full-time, students must take at least six other credits of classwork. Students must also receive at least a B grade to pass their internships, and if the same internship is failed twice, the student will be asked to withdraw from the program.
For Daoust-Filiatrault, this demanding schedule does not take into consideration students who work or have other time commitments. She explained that, on top of 25 hours of weekly work, students must also prepare lesson plans for their internships and do work outside of the classroom. Daoust-Filiatrault added that, while many teachers and administration recommend students study part-time during their internships, this can extend their studies far past four years.
Although it is possible to ask for permission to appear as a full-time student to Concordia while only taking six credits per semester during the internship period, “that doesn’t change how the government sees you,” she said. “So anyone with bursaries loses them, despite working full-time, despite not being able to make money while you’re full-time.”
According to Daoust-Filiatrault, this unfairly targets students who need a job to afford their education. “At this point, I feel like we’re losing everything by doing [internships],” she said.
The CSU campaign for paid internships is still in its early stages. According to Mushtaq, the student union is in the process of collecting preliminary data and statistics to present to the university and senate. Collecting this raw data and information about the variety of internship experiences from students is an essential first step to approaching the university, she explained. “Having something concrete from the ground level helps us create a more concrete action plan,” Mushtaq said.
Photo by Alex Hutchins