ASEAN’s INTERNSHIP IMPERATIVE: the first complete study of cross-border internships in the region

April 4, 2021

You can download the complete study by clicking here.

AHDO is proud to publish the first comprehensive review of cross-border internships in ASEAN. Leading the research and the writing for this 2-year study was a great learning experience for me. I'd like to thank our partner, the ASEAN Foundation. The ASEAN University Network and the ASEAN Youth Organisation and the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore made significant contributions, as did our AHDO researchers!

From the Foreword by ASEAN's Secretary General:

Cross-border internships do not only foster skills development, but also promote greater interaction and understanding among the youth. Encouraging more people-to-people links is critical in building a cohesive and vibrant ASEAN Community. Indeed, as laid out in this document, young people are excited to build international careers and are eager to learn and understand different cultures. - H.E. Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN

In 2019 the ASEAN Human Development Organisation and the ASEAN Foundation decided to collaborate on a white paper to draw attention to the need to develop cross-border internships in the region. We wanted to identify the advantages and obstacles of cross-border internships and make recommendations on how to meet the challenge of the “ASEAN Internship Imperative”.

Today's internship population in ASEAN is 213 million youth and by 2038 this will reach 220 million youth. Providing cross-border internships to only 1% of ASEAN’s youth would come to more than one hundred thousand a year. But the reality is that the number of cross-border internships is very small (nobody actually measures that number in ASEAN). Comparison with the successful and widespread practice of cross-border internships in Europe argues for massively increasing the availability of cross-border internships in ASEAN.

ASEAN internships are equal in value to studies abroad

Cross-border internships increase employability significantly. But the assumption of families in ASEAN is that university study in a Western country is the ticket to a successful career. In fact, studying in other ASEAN countries enhances career opportunities in this growing region, especially when a cross-border internship is included. According to Dr Choltis Dhirathiti, Executive Director of the ASEAN University Network Secretariat:

Today, a lot of students are seeking experience in other ASEAN countries. I think internship is a must for education in the region.

An important finding from our survey came from comparing the human capital value of a cross-border internship with that of a semester in a Western university. For employers, the experience of a cross-border internships is on a par with the experience of a semester of study in a Western university.

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Indeed a semester for an ASEAN cross-border internship was seen as preferable to a semester studying in a Western University when it comes to hiring graduates for jobs in HR (67% vs 64%), customer service (67% vs 64%), supply chain or sourcing (67% vs 57%).

How companies benefit from cross-border internships

Compared to a local internship, the investment is significantly higher for a company to organise a cross-border internship. What are the advantages of this investment ?

Our findings showed that employer branding in ASEAN is rated to be the most important advantage (81%), followed by the opportunity to get fresh ideas from young graduates (68%), identifying talent for recruiting (65%), creating diversity in the ASEAN workforce (55%) and getting a “helping hand” for work from interns (39%).

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Why students do internships in other ASEAN countries

Interns apply for internships in another ASEAN country to prepare for an international career. This is followed by improving the chance to be hired after graduation, gaining exposure to different a different culture and expanding self-knowledge and personal development.

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ASEAN's visa bottleneck

The main gap between ASEAN and the EU comes from the fact that European students can freely apply in a company anywhere in the European Union. Students in the top business and engineering schools are actually required to complete an international internships for graduation.

In our study the visa bottleneck for cross-border internships was the biggest obstacle for companies in offering cross-border internships.

We reviewed the requirements in different ASEAN countries and found that many countries have requirements that make the internship application difficult and some have no regulations at all for cross-border internships. Many countries do not provide an internship visa with sufficient time for a cross-border internships (typically a semester).

Companies rate lack of capability and openness of national governments in processing ASEAN internship applications as the major problem by far (94% in light blue). The next most important obstacle is lack of capability in ASEAN higher education institutions to manage cross-border internships (44% in yellow).

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The overall picture is one where visa policies for interns across ASEAN remain fragmented, complex and hugely variable from one country to the next. This sheds light on the need for an easy-to-use internship visa.

In our study, we reviewed government initiatives across the 10 ASEAN Member States for facilitate and support cross-border internships, the only model programme that we found that supported interns coming into the country as well as going out to other ASEAN countries was the Malaysian TalentCorps initiative named “MyASEAN” (described in annex of our study).

From imperative to action

Our study concludes with 9 recommendations intended to facilitate, accelerate and ensure quality ASEAN cross-border internships for the current 12 million youth engaged in higher education, as well as for future generations.

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  1. Promote cross-border internships as part of the ASEAN development strategy for developing human capital and the social and cultural community.
  2. Create a standard ASEAN internship visa with Member States that is easy to obtain from immigration services and of appropriate length (a semester up to a year).
  3. Communicate the benefits of cross-border internships to companies, NGOs and government agencies and provide a framework for internship quality management.
  4. Support students financially for internships through government aid, compensation for interns, housing allowances and insurance.
  5. Encourage universities, technical and vocational education institutions to support and recognise cross-border internships.
  6. Equip students for cross-border internships by providing pre-internship courses and workshops on the targeted Member State’s culture, language, history, economics and politics.
  7. Ensure quality management of the cross-border internship experience by bringing together stakeholders: companies, education institutions and the interns themselves.
  8. Develop ASEAN-wide tracking, research and quality assessments for cross-border internships.
  9. Monitor and sanction the corruption of internship by companies that exploit interns for free labour, by organisations that market internships to students with a high price and low quality, and misuse of internship visas by students for clandestine immigration.

You can download the complete study by clicking here.

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