Climate change and land degradation pose significant environmental challenges that threaten food and water security and climate stability. Regenerative agriculture through agroecology has emerged as a viable solution to address these challenges. By promoting the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices, we can create a more sustainable future for agriculture and mitigate the impacts of climate change, soil degradation, water scarcity, and food security issues. Evidence supports the benefits of regenerative agriculture, including increased yields by up to 100%, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40%, and improved soil health by up to 300%. However, there are obstacles to achieving a global shift to regenerative agriculture, such as a lack of awareness, perceived high costs, limited access to necessary products and services, and a disconnect between research, education, and extension systems.
Through years of experience in Cambodia, a systemic approach was visualized to augment the transition from conventional agricultural practices to a sustainable form of regenerative agriculture. The Light Bulb Approach visualizes six systems that need to work in cohesion to effectively facilitate the uptake and adoption of regenerative agriculture, and one of them is skills and human resources. Enhancing the human resources within the education system is vital to drive substantial improvements in the overall performance of the agriculture sector in alignment with the Cambodian government's commitment to transition towards Conservation Agriculture/Sustainable Intensification and Regenerative Agriculture.
However, the Faculty of Agriculture Engineering (FAE) highlighted a critical issue: the absence of an internship curriculum focusing on Conservation Agriculture/Sustainable Intensification and Regenerative Agriculture. This lack of structure in internship programs hinders the availability of technical human resources, posing a significant obstacle to the progress of sustainable and regenerative agriculture in Cambodia.
To address these challenges, the InGuider model was collaboratively developed by the Faculty of Agriculture Engineering (FAE) and Swisscontact through the Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) project. Its primary aim is to empower and equip university students in the agriculture sector with relevant skills through high-quality hands-on training via internships. The essence of the InGuider model lies in its structured and centralized approach. The faculty takes an active role in pre-selecting suitable companies for internships, alleviating the burden on students to find companies independently, if necessary. Furthermore, the program provides pre-internship training to ensure students are well-prepared, and throughout the internship period, students receive close supervision from a faculty supervisor. These key elements collectively contribute to the effectiveness and success of the InGuider model.
The timeline of the InGuider program highlights its evolution and successful implementation. In 2018, the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA) partnered with the ISA to incorporate the human-centered design approach into its curriculum. This aimed to enhance student capacity in agriculture innovation and improve the acceptance, accessibility, affordability, and adaptability of innovative technologies through end-user engagement. In 2019, the HCD (Human Centered Design) curriculum concept evolved into the InGuider model, an internship program providing hands-on experience in sustainable agriculture to address the lack of human resources in the field. From June 2019 to December 2020, the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering (FAE) ran the InGuider program in cooperation with Swisscontact, achieving success in maximizing benefits for interns and hosting institutions. In 2021, the InGuider handbook was developed collaboratively. The following year, in 2022, the InGuider model was embedded within the FAE curriculum, with plans to propose its incorporation at the university level. An MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the private sector was signed to secure internship opportunities for students. In 2023, efforts focused on institutionalizing the InGuider model at the university level, promoting it in career fairs, conducting evaluation workshops and staff training, developing strategies for corporate social responsibility, and facilitating a minimum of 10 internships in regenerative agriculture.
In 2023, InGuider underwent a comprehensive evaluation to ensure its efficacy and identify areas for improvement. The evaluation process involved a meeting between the faculty and the Swisscontact team, where they meticulously scrutinized each stage, guideline, and step outlined in the InGuider Handbook. The aim was to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the model and discuss potential solutions for enhancing its effectiveness. As a result of the evaluation, certain sections of the handbook were revised, incorporating valuable insights gained from the assessment. Additionally, new steps were added to further optimize the internship experience. Both parties appreciated the evaluation workshop and recognized the significance of regular assessments in refining the InGuider model. Subsequently, the faculty and the Swisscontact team collaborated on revising the InGuider Handbook, ensuring that it reflected the outcomes of the evaluation and embraced the suggested improvements.
The Faculty of Agriculture Engineering (FAE) recently organized an experience-sharing workshop to introduce the InGuider Model to the university community after revising the handbook. The workshop aimed to gather collective input on improving the internship program from faculty members across the university. Representatives from various departments, including the RUA Vice-Rector, the Career Center, Academic Center, Swisscontact, and FAE, along with representatives from nine out of the ten faculties, were present at the event.
During the workshop, FAE shared success stories and highlighted the effective implementation of the InGuider Model since 2019. The faculty's achievements left a strong impression on some attendees, who expressed their interest in adopting this internship model within their faculties. Additionally, other faculties provided valuable feedback and considered this model for potential future implementation.
Interactive discussions ensued after FAE's presentation, covering a wide range of topics related to internship opportunities for RUA students, enhancing employability and market readiness of graduates, fostering partnerships between RUA and the private sector, and defining the roles and responsibilities of the recently established Career Center. Moreover, participants explored collaborations between the Career Center and Swisscontact to further enhance and refine the InGuider Model.
As a result of the workshop, several key takeaways emerged. First, the Career Center and Swisscontact agreed to work towards institutionalizing the InGuider Model within the university. Initially, interested faculties will begin implementing this internship model, with the expectation that eventually, all faculties will adopt it. Second, the Career Center and Swisscontact will collaborate on a new partnership agreement to facilitate the implementation and continuous improvement of the model. Lastly, Swisscontact has graciously offered technical assistance by providing an expert from their organization to support the Career Center in formulating a comprehensive roadmap for the future.
Incorporating InGuider into university programs presents both challenges and opportunities for students and institutions alike. One of the main challenges lies in the limited availability of internships. To overcome this, universities must establish more partnerships with the private sector, broadening the range of opportunities for students. Additionally, the cost associated with creating and maintaining a quality internship program poses a hurdle, requiring financial support from hosting institutions. Moreover, the differing academic schedules across faculties pose a challenge, necessitating flexible duration and scheduling of internships.
However, incorporating InGuider also opens several opportunities. Firstly, it enhances the employability of students by providing them with relevant work experience and skill-building opportunities, particularly in fields like agroecology. This practical exposure can significantly improve their prospects upon graduation. Furthermore, InGuider offers students better preparation for the workforce through mentorship and training before their actual internships. This enables them to gain a deeper understanding of workplace expectations and demands, allowing them to make the most of their internships. Additionally, a standardized internship program like InGuider contributes to improving the reputation of the university. The program's high quality and the resulting professional growth of students can enhance the institution's standing and increase credits for participants.
In conclusion, the implications of InGuider for the future of education are substantial and promising. Implementing InGuider could offer all students the chance to acquire practical experience in their chosen fields, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge for successful careers. It has the potential to bridge the gap between education and the workplace by exposing students to real-world applications of their coursework through internships. Moreover, a standardized internship model facilitated by InGuider could contribute to the overall improvement of education quality. By recognizing and addressing the challenges associated with this model, universities can seize the opportunities it presents and provide students with valuable work experiences, bolstering their employment prospects and fostering strong partnerships with various industries.