A number of leading British universities are taking it upon themselves to help their students secure fairer work experience, either through refusing to endorse unpaid internships and/or enforcing an outright ban on their advertisement on campus.
The University of Nottingham’s (UON’s) Careers and Employability Service states that it will not ‘handle any vacancies that…do not pay the legal National Minimum Wage (except for voluntary opportunities with a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation or community groups in the United Kingdom, or overseas organisations)’. It also makes clear that there should be no obligations for unpaid work experience as well as a ‘clear commitment in advance from the employer of what the candidate can expect to learn from the placement.’ Ultimately, the Service maintains that unpaid internships are ‘not a fair opportunity for our students’.
Mike Dore, the UON Students’ Union’s (SU) Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer, similarly maintains that the SU ‘does not support unpaid internships as they pose a barrier to students who cannot work for weeks with no income’, and advises students to ‘be cautious when looking for work experience and to question the ethics of the companies who offer these internships’.
Nottingham’s ban on advertising unpaid internships is actually one of the strictest, comparable to policies adopted by the University of Essex, the University of Leeds and the University of Manchester. Other universities such as the University of Edinburgh, the University of Oxford and the University of Sussex, are slightly more flexible in their commitment to banning unpaid internships as these universities allow the advertising of unpaid internships that last four weeks or less.
The reasoning behind the flexibility in policy and endorsement of unpaid internships by some universities seems to be largely due to the fact that most universities are able to subsidise work placements through grants or negotiation. Whilst others simply believe that it is not their place to advise students against accepting unpaid internships.
However, some critics argue that it is their place because there are many drawbacks to the grants system and negotiations cannot always be reached with employers. Furthermore, recent graduates are usually not eligible for internship grants and even those students that are eligible, are not necessarily guaranteed to receive one. For example, 36% of grant applications by UON students in the academic year 2011-2012 were unsuccessful.
For the academic year 2013-2014, it is unknown how many students will be successful in their grant applications for unpaid internships, but it is worth noting that the University’s work experience grant terms and conditions are currently under review as a result of changes in funding. The effect that this may have on the success of applications is yet to be established.
Image: With Thanks To StudentMoneySaver.co.uk