Nearly half of Hong Kong university students lost or were unable to find internships due to the coronavirus pandemic , while half of those who did were forced to get their job experience virtually, a new survey has found. Internship openings listed on a joint system shared by local universities decreased by about 30 per cent this year, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found, prompting a call for the government to provide funding to allow students to take part in more expensive overseas internship opportunities. “The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted internships and we have seen a large drop in the number of openings being offered,” said Derek Lee Ka-wai, of the federation’s think tank, Youth IDEAS education group. Hong Kong’s economy shrunk by 3.4 per cent in the third quarter compared to last year, as key drivers of growth such as tourism and consumption have been hit hard by the pandemic. Will revamping Hong Kong’s liberal studies end critical thinking among students? Dr Frankie Lam King-sun, the director of Lingnan University’s human resource management and organisational behaviour programme, said companies were already facing difficulties in managing existing manpower, even asking employees to work fewer hours to deal with a shrinking economy. “There is very little incentive for companies to hire interns for both big or small companies,” he said. Lee said work-from-home measures encouraged by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus had also changed how students interned, with both universities and corporations switching to online “virtual” internships. But Youth IDEAS’ latest survey, conducted between late September and mid-October, found students still valued internships as an important way for them to learn the ropes of their chosen fields and to network and build contacts. According to the think tank’s survey of 877 recent graduates and university students in their second year and above, 48 per cent either had their internships postponed or cancelled, or were unable to find any at all. Shirley Ko Suet-lai, also from Youth IDEAS, said students who could not find internships were still proactive in seeking out job experience, with more than 50 per cent of them taking up part-time employment and 37 per cent choosing to learn new skills. Meanwhile, out of the 457 students who did find internships, nearly 55 per cent did their work virtually. The students surveyed came from different fields, including law, accounting and even speech therapy, with respondents saying they would have meetings online or hold therapy sessions virtually. Some 65 per cent of those students said virtual internships decreased the chances for them to interact with their colleagues, and nearly 60 per cent said the online arrangement did not feel real, though the students also said it had its advantages. Two top Hong Kong universities slip down Asia rankings for second year in row Nearly 75 per cent of the students surveyed said virtual internships gave them more flexibility, while 65 per cent saved money and time on commuting. “We expect virtual internships will be a trend in the coming period as the pandemic continues and work-from-home measures are more accepted,” said Youth IDEAS education group convenor Dan Cheung Lok-kan. Cheung urged employers to provide better orientation sessions with a clear indication of job goals, as well as a buddy system to help orient interns and give them a better experience. The group also said the government could help expand the number of internships available by providing funding to help students pay to take part in overseas internship programmes, which would also help broaden their horizons.