HIGHER EDUCATION IN TIMES OF COVID: IMPACT ON THE QUALITY OF INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

S. Tišma1, S. Kalambura2, R. Biondić3, S. Kovač3, H. Maeški3, D. Dogančić3, L. Nađ4, A. Farkaš1, I. Tolić1, A. Ruk1

1Institute for Development and International Relations (CROATIA)
2University of Applied Science Velika Gorica (CROATIA)
3University of Zagreb, Faculty of Geotechnical Engineering (CROATIA)
4Green Energy Cooperative (CROATIA)
Internship is an integral part of a professional course at higher education institutions, which is directed to the application of knowledge and skills in the business world (work-based learning). Internships contribute to a number of positive changes in the development of the economy and innovation and in strengthening the cooperation between universities and the economy. Recent scientific studies show that the internship experience is important for students to see the application of acquired knowledge in practice as well as for potential future employers who gain insight into knowledge and skills of students - future employees. The work in the conditions of the COVID 19 pandemic during the past two years have affected the development and quality of internship.

This paper presents the results of the analysis of the attitudes, knowledge and experiences of students acquired through internship as well as the impressions of employers on the level of students’ knowledge organised by the Faculty of Geotechnical Engineering of the University of Zagreb, Croatia. The research was conducted on four occasions in the time period 2017-2021 using the same survey method with a total of 121 students just before their entering the labour market and 130 employers who are partners with the Faculty for many years. Special analysis in the fourth analysed year was dedicated to the conduct of internship programs in the conditions of COVID 19 pandemic.

Research results contain a description of internship in the observed period with special reference to the manner of implementation and working conditions in the pandemic year. In all observed years, employers are most satisfied with the work of students in the team, student motivation and the desire for further training. What employers are least satisfied with is the practical knowledge and skills needed to perform the internship. Through all four academic years, students are most satisfied with the adequacy of internship with regard to the study program and internship’s mentors. They were least satisfied with the role of the Faculty in the organization of internship, the adequacy of communication with them and the possibility of independent work in the scope of internship. In the last pandemic year, the satisfaction of students with internships in most of the analysed segments significantly decreased. Nevertheless, satisfaction with the role of the Faculty in the organization of internship has increased. Employers expressed the burden of organizing internships in pandemic conditions and the little time they could devote to students in those conditions. The recommendations indicate the continuing need for better communication between the Faculty and the employers and the provision of additional information about students in order to prepare assignments in a timely manner and in accordance with the interests of students. Also, the COVID 19 pandemic has shown that it is very easy to perform administrative tasks online and through e-services, and it is recommended to introduce an e-form internship diary and questionnaire in order to reduce the administrative burden of internship and thus leave more time for better implementation of internship.