Unethical and hypocritical - the universities promoting unpaid internships
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University College London recently withdrew an advertisement for an unpaid internship as a result of student outrage, following a similar decision last month by the University of Birmingham. Unpaid internships have proved to be a controversial topic, with employers seeing them as providing “essential experience” whilst many student groups are classifying them as “exploitation”. Internships are generally classed as a period of several months – a maximum of four, according to UCL’s own guidelines which it breached with its short-lived advertisement – at a junior or graduate level. These positions are often paid, sometimes not, and it is the latter which students are fighting against. Unpaid internships are the scorn of student groups such as the University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS). They are seen not so much as throwing sand in the wheels of social mobility as picking it up and pushing it down the road in the other direction. As Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre argues, “unpaid entry posts mean that the children of wealthy parents get in, get ahead, and do better, because their families can afford to give them money to pay rent and live in London while they earn no salary”. As the culture of unpaid internships swells, Goldacre’s analysis is bleak: “The opportunities of the next generation, and the shape of our professions, are being determined by the wealth of people’s parents”. Martin Paul Eve, associate lecturer at the University of Sussex, agrees. “If there are two candidates – one with private means who can afford to do the job for nothing, another without – the law of the market dictates that the former will "undercut" the pricing of the latter.”
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