​​​The Value Of A Virtual Internship

​​International and cross-cultural cooperation, knowledge exchange, and understanding are key to AKU’s Global Mobility Programmes. Universities around the world are adapting to a 'new normal' regarding student mobility and work-integrated learning. In this spirit, the Aga Khan University's new Virtual Internship Programme (AKU-VIP) has been developed to engage with interns in innovative and meaningful ways, build their skills and navigate their careers through these uncertain times. The AKU-VIP offers opportunities for students to gain international work experience, albeit remotely, and contribute to a variety of projects.

AKU’s partner universities have played an important role in supporting the AKU-VIP initiative by helping market, recruit, and promote these internship opportunities across their campuses.  Some of our partners, including the Universities of Washington, Alberta, Toronto, and Simon Fraser, recently shared their experience with the programme, and the value of virtual learning. 

For Simon Fraser University and the University of Alberta, the agility of the AKU-IIP being able to pivot to a virtual platform was significant in providing students alternative opportunities at a time when many onsite internships were canceled. The University of Toronto’s International Development Studies Cooperative Program noted, "the ability for AKU to pivot their programme so quickly and intentionally is noteworthy and very much appreciated. They filled a major gap at a critical time." 

At Simon Fraser and the University of Toronto, colleagues noted, a virtual internship track removes access barriers, levels the playing field, and provides more opportunities for students in general. Simon Fraser supports the idea of virtual internships long after the pandemic ends and agree that "virtual internships, [will] allow students who normally have barriers to traveling to take on opportunities with employers around the world." 

For partners, a key feature of the AKU-VIP has been its ability to help students develop important soft skills in new emerging areas. University of Toronto colleagues mentioned that students gaining exposure in global and cross-cultural engagement was one of the highlights of the programme. They noted that “the AKU-VIP awards our students with opportunities to gain new skills, particularly in research and cross-cultural engagement. During a period of stress and uncertainty, student interns were able to build flexibility and resilience as they were challenged to be creative in learning to work remotely and across borders."

Despite the unusual circumstances of working remotely, AKU-VIP interns were glad to continue pursuing their aspirations in their desired academic fields and gain real-world experience. The University of Alberta’s International Office commented on the value of the programme noting that, “one student [from the first batch of virtual interns] was very excited to take part in a research project at AKU and get her name on a student thesis and manuscript that will be published. Despite not being able to work in-person, the collaboration between research supervisors and interns can still work and produce valuable outcomes and accomplishments to our students." Establishing meaningful interactions and innovative ways of working is a key component of the programme and ensures that both interns and mentors get the best out of each other. 

Ultimately, the programme has played a key role in strengthening AKU’s partnerships with a network of global institutions by providing placements in many different countries, across AKDN agencies, and in a diverse range of academic, service, and research areas. The University of Washington expressed their gratitude about their partnership with AKU-VIP, stating that “the University of Washington takes pride in being a globally-engaged institution, and the AKU-VIP program has allowed us to continue to offer our students the opportunity for international experiences even in this time of COVID-19.” 

With increasing global health risks and concerns, virtual internships are here to stay. AKU will continue to strengthen this programme for our partner university students and more. We remain optimistic that this new model will open doors for more fruitful exchanges, new ideas, and expand to include many more partners.