The internship culture that has become intrinsically linked to growing numbers of unemployment amongst UK university graduates is in need of an overhaul, not from Labour or the government, but from the organisations offering long-term unpaid internships.
Internships have long been a way to get into your industry of choice. To spend a few weeks or months to learn the ropes and also to show your work ethic and commitment as a potential future employee has seemed a right of passage for most in the journey from university graduate to full time professional worker.
In recent years though, industries around the UK have taken advantage of the huge numbers of unemployed graduates who will do anything to get their foot in the door, by offering long-term internships, often only covering travel expenses. As a recent university graduate myself, I have accepted unpaid internship work to get ahead. Does this mean that it is acceptable? Not in the slightest.
News that under a Labour government, Ed Miliband proposes to cap unpaid internships at 1-month duration will do little to curb the free work culture that has permeated the modern-day prospects of graduates the UK wide. A simple way for companies to circumvent this and still be within the law; instead of hiring one intern for a 3 month period, hire 3 – firing each after 30 days of work.
What needs to change is the industry. Graduates need to stand up with the degrees that cost them so much time and effort and say that, ‘I deserve more’, because it’s true. Yes we’re in a double, if not triple-dip recession and graduates have long been told that the jobs market still hasn’t bounced back to pre-2007 levels but recent news would suggest that this is no longer the case. The belief that long-term unpaid internships can only be afforded by the wealthier students at university also adds fuel to the fire, as the question now also becomes a socioeconomic one but also one of inequality; how is it fair to offer competitive advantage to those with means whilst not extending the same opportunities to those without – regardless of university attended?
Linked to post-graduate pathways are the huge debts that students accrue over the course of higher education (HE) – since the 2012 changes to tuition fees, up to 50% of the 2015 September intake of students to university across the UK are projected to be unable to pay off their loans in full after graduating. During a speech made at the Royal Society in London, John Denham, a vocal supporter of a HE industry and loans revamp, commented that, during the last Labour government, the portion of students unable to repay their HE-accrued debts was at 28%; citing further proof that the current system is unsustainable, creating ‘one of the most expensive university systems in the world’.
In the same speech, Denham also recommended that UK employers should fund 15% of current university degrees – around 50,000 places; this process could cut down the use of unpaid internships in determining future employees simultaneously.
The questions graduates, and indeed current students, should be asking are; Labour – how can you effectively police the 4-week internship policy? Is this policy just hot air? Other parties vying for your votes – What is your stance on the HE industry and how could your party change the status quo?
While these questions are being answered, graduates – like myself – need to stand up for their work. Getting through 3 years of a degree (Football or Beyoncé Studies not-withstanding) is hard work. The majority of those that graduate from university have an excellent work ethic and drive; their intensive courses require it each and every day of their university life. Refusing to pay graduates for long-term placements and internships can, in some respects, equate to not caring about how highly skilled graduates already are. After decades in education and countless thousands of pounds of debt later, graduates are still expected to support themselves through long-term internships just to get a consideration for full time employment?
Call that unfair? The vast majority of graduates certainly do.
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