SHANNON PAGE — The Muse (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — Should some students receive wages for mandatory work terms while others have to pay for the opportunity to work without compensation? It’s a question that has recently sparked a conversation at Memorial University of Newfoundland and has inspired the school’s student union to begin collecting information on the topic of work term equity.
“We’ve been hearing more and more from students, and not just from the programs like nursing and education, that aren’t getting paid,” said Candace Simms, director of external affairs for MUN Students’ Union. “But also from students in business and engineering who feel that it is unfair.”
The MUNSU is hoping to hear from students, faculty members and program organizers as they begin a campaign to address the differences between paid and unpaid placements across programs with mandatory internships.
Simms says this isn’t the first time that MUNSU has heard complaints from students and compensation isn’t their only concern.
Students in faculties with unpaid placements, such as education, nursing and social work, are also required to pay higher tuition fees during their work term — often the equivalent of five courses.
Questions are being raised as to the fairness of tuition across programs, given that the faculties of business and engineering, which offer paid placements and only charge students the equivalent of one course for their work term.
According to Simms, much of the problem stems from funding. Those programs which offer paid placements and lower fees provide placements within the private sector, whereas publicly funded fields typically offer unpaid placements and require students to pay more tuition.
“It’s been really important that we reach out to students and we’re still seeking feedback,” said Simms. “We’ve also [been] requesting meetings with people across the university and requested information from faculties and schools. We’ve heard back from maybe half of them… We’re doing follow up and trying to get as much information as possible.”
Christopher Ryan, a music education student, started his work term in September and knows first-hand how difficult it can be to make ends meet during a work term. Music education placements are unpaid and students are charged the equivalent tuition of 15 credit hours in order to participate in what is a mandatory component of their program.
“I have to work two or three other jobs along with working 40 hours [at my work placement] every week,” Ryan said. “Just to make ends meet I’m looking at working 65 or 70 hours. That’s just to pay bills.
“It creates a really stressful situation. You really can’t concentrate on your internship very much because you know that you have to work a five or six hour shift afterwards.”
Such a situation makes it difficult for students to participate in work terms without incurring large amounts of debt which are even more difficult to pay off with a career in the public sector.
It’s a complaint that Simms has heard before.
“It’s putting the students in those programs at a huge disadvantage because not only are they having to pay sometimes the equivalent of five courses plus relocation fees, if those are applicable, but they are also expected to work full time hours essentially for free,” Simms said.