General Article Unpaid internships: just the job, if your parents can afford it

Topic Selected: Student Choices
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The recent news that Westminster School has opted to raise money by auctioning off internships at merchant banks and law firms should come as little surprise. Internships are such a valuable way of getting a foot in the door of a desirable profession that people are prepared to pay hundreds of pounds to give their offspring the chance to work, without pay, at the employer of their choice.

Undergraduate students have two problems not faced by preceding generations: they have to pay for their higher education, and they are expected to leave it with ‘employability skills’ as well as a degree. This means they often need to work alongside their studies, both to earn money and to gain practical and commercial skills and experience.

The boundaries between employment, work and education have been becoming increasingly blurred, as we found when we tracked a large national cohort of UK students from application in 2005–6 until 2012. Almost four-fifths of the Futuretrack graduates we surveye...

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