Industrial experience for Computer Science students of the University of Cyprus in Cyprus

Elpida Keravnou-Papailiou
University of Cyprus

Research Gate profile

Elias Athanasopoulos
University of Cyprus

Chryssis Georgiou
University of Cyprus

Marios Dikaiakos
University of Cyprus

Abstract
Background and Objectives

The Computer Science department of the University of Cyprus was established in 1992 and it was one of the first departments of the institution. The University of Cyprus is currently the largest public educational institution in Cyprus. Students admitted to the department, through national exams, participate in a modern and competitive curriculum of Computer Science. A successful completion of the program awards the students 240 ECTS.

The Department has been running an Industrial Affiliates program for at least 10 years, establishing many agreements of collaboration with companies and organisations in ICT. From the companies’ perspective, one of the main incentives attracting them to the program has been the identification of good candidates amongst graduating students for open positions. From the Department’s perspective, key motivations to initiate and run the program have been the establishment of an ongoing dialogue with the industry regarding the required skills sought by its graduates from the industry, and the widening of opportunities offered to its students for acquiring job experience through internships and for having better access to the job market. In short, the objectives of our initiative, were the following:
Give the opportunity to students to acquire soft skills.
Make students familiar with the local industry and vice-versa.
Allow students to experience industrial workplaces and procedures such as hiring interviews and corporate-based evaluation.
Establish a new communication channel between the department and the local industry.

Strategy & Activities Undertaken

The first instance of this program took place between February and September 2019. This period includes a pre-internship period, where companies announce their internship offerings through the Liaison Office of the university, students apply for an internship position based on their own preferences, while companies perform interviews to select the ones that are suitable for them.

From February until the end of May the students had to find a suitable company to carry out an industrial internship during the summer. This matching period was carried out in two rounds. Finally, there were 19 students carrying out an internship, and 18 of them were successfully awarded 7.5 ECTS credits (which is equivalent to an advanced Computer Science course) and a 150 euros/month stipend by the Liaison Office (regardless of whether an internship was paid or not).

Before the start of the internship, each student and company had to sign a learning agreement which specified the role and the expectations the company would have from the student during the internship period, including working hours, payment (if any), what it would be expected from the student to learn, and the precise duration of the internship.

At the end of the internship, each student had to submit to the Department two documents: (a) a report stating their basic accomplishments during their internship and (b) an evaluation of the hosting company. Similarly, a representative from the hosting company had to submit to the Department a student evaluation.

Outcomes / Impact

Once the internships were completed, all students participated in a short interview with three faculty members of the department, who constitute the Departmental Internship and Industrial Liaison Committee.

It is worth noting that most of the Internship positions were for Web Developers, Software Engineers, Database Managers and Programmers.

Matching process
The matching process was one of the most discussed issues, raised by several students. Some representative comments (in not significant order), are the following:
Students demanded more diverse selection of placements.
The period of the interviews was close to the studying period for the exams.
No extra guidance in the selection process.
There were communication problems with a few companies.

As far as the last point is concerned, it is important to stress that:
One company, during the matching process refused to sign any learning agreement, and then tried to hire students outside our program;
One company, during interviewing, sent coding problems to students, and while the students submitted their solutions, the company never replied back (even with a negative notification).

For those companies, our intention is to remove them entirely from future instances of the program.

Student satisfaction
Overall, all student interns were fairly satisfied with the internship program. Among the positive comments we received are:
Several companies made follow-up offerings (11 out of the 18 students were offered future employment).
Good environment (especially with startups).
Team work.

Among the negative comments we received are:
No salary beyond the stipend offered by the liaison office of the university (66% of interns).
No equipment offered (interns had to use their laptops, sometimes installing very specific software) and office space (55% of interns).
No induction/preparation before the start of the internship (22% of interns).
No active supervision (16% of interns).

Our intention for future instances of the internship program is to request from companies offering internships to clarify that they provide proper equipment and office space, and assignment of an explicit supervisor. These could be included in the aforementioned learning agreements that companies are required to sign.

Overall, we have found this pilot implementation of the internship program to be successful, and a promising direction towards fulfilling the aforementioned objectives. Equipped with the lessons learned and the feedback provided by the student interns, we are preparing the second installment of the internship program.