Graduates from UCT say they are struggling with unpaid internships. Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Graduates from UCT say they are struggling with unpaid internships. Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

UCT graduates doing one year unpaid internships struggling

By Velani Ludidi Time of article published Jun 19, 2021

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Cape Town - UCT graduates studying towards their neuropsychology master’s degree say they are feeling the brunt of doing unpaid internships at Groote Schuur Hospital.

To qualify to write board exams and become a neuropsychologist, graduates have to complete a one-year internship at a public hospital and work 40 hours a week.

They need to complete this straight after doing the second year of their Master’s degree. Only UCT has this degree programme in the country and it accepts six students per year.

Fearing victimisation, a student anonymously spoke to Weekend Argus and said: “Interns work full time at Groote Schuur without pay and without means of sustaining themselves during this period.”

“We have inquired with the Western Cape Department of Health to see if and when they would be able to open funded internships in public hospitals similar to those of clinical psychologists. However, the department has never given us any direction as to when this issue will be sorted or if it’ll ever be fixed.”

“This is a major barrier for students, particularly black students who do not come from well-off homes to afford the cost of living in Cape Town on an unpaid full-time internship.”

UCT SRC president Declan Dyer condemned the practice of unpaid internships.

“We know that a similar thing happens with some of the more senior students within the faculty of health sciences. Students are subjected to work as unpaid labourers under the disguise of work experience and community service. This a conversation we have been having with the university since the beginning of our term.”

Department of Health spokesperson Mark van der Heever said they are aware of this issue but it is between the students, UCT and HPCSA. “As such, a response should be sought from the relevant parties involved and not the Department.”

HPCSA communications manager Priscilla Sekhonyana said universities act in an overarching supervisory capacity for internship programmes conducted at designated training institutions.

“The HPCSA notes and respect the autonomy of universities and cannot, therefore, be prescriptive in terms of how universities offer and implement their training and internship programmes.”

She added they support the principle of paid employment of interns.

“Although the Board cannot dictate the remuneration of interns, it is expected that training institutions will remunerate their intern psychologists fairly to thus enable them to at least cover basic living and transport costs. Training institutions need to be aware that they can register their internship training programmes with their relevant SETAs. This may render the institution eligible to receive subsidies from its SETA for interns’ salaries.”

Director of Neuropsychology at UCT Professor Mark Solms said the internship is not part of UCT’s degree programme. “It is something that the HPCSA requires of graduates after they leave university and before they can register. Conventionally, such internships are provided by the province, not the university.”

He blamed the health department for not establishing paid internships.

“The profession of neuropsychology was only recognised by the HPCSA in late 2019 and it only began registering neuropsychologists in 2020. It will take some time before paid internships are up and running, but UCT is doing all it can to assist with the process.”

Michael Bagraim, of Bagraim’s Attorneys, said the internships are always governed by between the student, university and the place of internship.

“One has to look at these agreements, however, these agreements are often unfair and discriminatory. Because they know without the internship the student will not graduate. So they get bullied into those internships, which is a form of slavery. Many of these students do not have parents who will give them money to survive. This is actually putting them in poverty before they start their careers. It is not illegal but immoral.”

Weekend Argus

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