Working full-time for free? Is this university being fair with its placements? Source: Shutterstock

All students expect to work hard at university, but for hospitality students at one Canadian college the work isn’t just limited to library hours.

Hospitality students at Assiniboine Community College are complaining the college is forcing them to work as hospitality staff for free at university events, without giving them sufficient training or teaching for the placements.

Students are required to prepare food and serve guests at the university’s five high-profile community events to gain work experience and develop their real-life hospitality skills.

Changnam Lee, an international student studying hotel and restaurant management, explained this looked like an excellent opportunity on paper, but now he is studying at the university he realises he is being exploited, according to CBC.

Students are unhappy they are working at university events for free. Source: Shutterstock

Lee paid over US$16,000 to study his diploma and feels the university is capitalising on students’ desire to learn, rather than focusing on his education. 

“We paid for study, but in reality, we worked for free,” Lee commented about his work experience at a university-run food pop-up event.

There were promises they would receive hospitality training software during their two-week placements, but this was non-existent.

Students were also supposed to receive any tips raised for their service, but the university told them it was being withheld to pay for missing napkins. The university has since returned the money following an investigative email from CBC.

“I’m just feeling very displeased that international students [are] considered as a cash cow,” said Lee. 

The university has a strong ethos of ‘learning by doing’, and views the placements as a fundamental learning experience.

“In hotel and restaurant management, we have events and real-life experiences. That is their laboratory,” said Deanna Rexe, vice-president in charge of programs at Assiniboine Community College.

This practical training ensures 78 percent of hospitality graduates find employment in their field, reports CBC.

Rexe said she was shocked students were unhappy with the course content and the department has not received any official complaints from the students.

Students get courses totaling 920 credit hours in their first year, Rexe said. This includes 30 hours of practical event work and 890 hours of class time.

School spokesperson, Danielle Adriaansen, added students receive an additional 143 hours of event preparation and serving work experience.

Lee disputed this, saying students have fewer than 890 hours teaching time and there was not enough class time to cover all the required material to pass exams and complete assignments.

Two other international students told CBC they were concerned about the lack of teaching time and the number of independent projects they were expected to complete.

Rexe said she thought there was confusion about students’ attitude to independent study: “I wouldn’t characterize that as independent study; I would characterize it as homework,” she said.

Assiniboine Community College Students Association president Anneliesea Parkinson, who is also is an international student, said her organization has not heard of any dissatisfaction but encourages students to come to her with any complaints.

“We do not shy away from aiding our students and each case is handled in a confidential manner,” she said.

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