A recent NUS campaign seeks to end University careers services promoting unpaid internships by passing legislation which will deal with the barriers that stop students being able to afford internships or traineeships when they graduate. The campaign was launched February 13th 2013 in coalition with the TUC, Intern Aware, Interns Anonymous and Graduate Fog.
The NUS campaign is arguing that unpaid internships do not comply with the National Minimum Wage which is illegal and therefore all University Careers services should stop promoting them as opportunities for their students.
Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland stated that: “Unpaid and underpaid internships entrench privilege. When only small groups of people with large bank accounts can afford to take up work experience, opportunities are limited for those from less affluent backgrounds to move into employment.”
Paul Swinton, a music student, commented in support about these aims of the NUS campaign. He said: “From an objective point of view, any labour, except charity work, should be rewarded financially, especially if the job they are doing would normally be a paid one.”
The key issue is most students are unable to take time off work to complete an internship, which to be any true value, need to last longer than one or two weeks. Students at Glasgow University sympathise with this issue. Chloe Bell, a Politics/Psychology student stated that while she would value the experience of an internship, “I need to save to be able to get by” and so could not undertake an unpaid placement for more than a couple of weeks.
Glasgow University Careers Service, when asked whether they ensure that all the placements advertised are paid opportunities remarked that: “As a rule we do not advertise internships that are unpaid, the main exception to this being the charities sector where traditionally students have had to take on unpaid work to gain paid employment in the long run.”
Jess McGrellis, VP Student Support, said: “The issue of whether the university should be promoting unpaid internships is a complex one. The University does have a policy not to advertise unpaid internships, but only within the UK. Outside of the UK situations can vary, for example in China it is illegal to pay an intern so the university treats different places on a case by case basis. Whether this is right or wrong is complicated. On the one hand these companies charge a lot of money and are somewhat exploiting the fact that students need work experience. On the other hand, students get the opportunity to travel while doing their placement, which does appeal to many.”