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Edwin Clifford-Coupe's picture

[EDIT: The Careers Service replied promptly to my original email, and their response is printed below.]

Earlier in the term, UCLU Council passed a policy against unpaid internships. These kind of internships are fundamentally unequal: living in London is very expensive, meaning that very few people can afford to work for free. This makes for an unfair labour market, in which young people are barred from accessing their career of choice not because they lack sufficient skill or ambition, but because they do not have the financial means to work for free. Or, it forces people to work two jobs. The continued expectation that young people will work for free will undermine the rights and status of existing workers (as previous paid positions become unpaid), will entrench certain sectors as the preserve of the economic elite and inculcate a disregard for basic labour rights in a whole generation of workers.

The motion mandated me to do several things. We have begun a survey of UCL students’ working habits (which you should fill in here!), which will give us data about UCL students in (unpaid) work, and are completing a student guide to rights at work. Furthermore, today I wrote a letter, available below, to the UCL Careers Service to clarify their position on unpaid internships. At Academic Committee I had it confirmed that the Service do not intentionally offer unpaid work, but we have found what we believe to be some discrepancies, which I hope we can iron out together. On a related note, it’s excellent to see that the UCL Advances project, which facilitates internships for UCL students with London businesses, also pays student interns above the minimum wage.

Dear UCL Careers Service,

Further to the helpful discussion we had at Academic Committee, I thought I would write to you outlining UCLU’s policy on unpaid internships, which I have attached. Resolves 4 and 5 mandate UCLU:

4. To investigate the extent to which the UCL Careers Service advertise unpaid internships

5. To lobby the Careers Service to no longer advertise jobs that pay below the minimum wage

To place these resolutions in context, the NUS and a number of other student unions (such as Sussex, Leeds, University of the Arts) have passed similar policies, and University of the Creative Arts careers service have resolved to no longer advertise unpaid internships.

The reasons the UCLU policy gives for opposing unpaid internships are that they are in some cases illegal, as they undermine the London Living Wage and the minimum wage; that they can prevent talented candidates from accessing positions, not because of their abilities but because of their financial resources (due to the economic challenges of surviving in locations such as London without receiving an income); and that an increase in unpaid roles threatens the position of paid staff.

It is good to see online, and to have confirmed in person, that many of the positions advertised on the Careers’ Service website are paid, or offer expenses that are equivalent to or greater than the minimum wage. Further to our discussion, below are a number of vacancies which we believe are exceptions to this:

In accordance with UCLU policy, I would like to clarify the Careers Service policy on advertising unpaid positions, and to ask that the service not advertise unpaid positions or positions that offer payment below National Minimum Wage. Through not advertising these positions, the Careers Service will not be disadvantaging UCL students or graduates, as these roles are already advertised through many outlets that students have access to. However UCL Careers Service, like the University of the Creative Arts Careers Service, will be demonstrating:

  • its commitment to fair access to opportunities, based on talent and not wealth;
  • its respect for National Minimum Wage legislation;
  • and its concern that the current trend for unpaid labour is undermining the status of current workers and new entrants to the labour market.

Further, as the vacancies linked to above vary in terms of the character of the work and the organisation, it would be good to have a discussion about this. I would be very happy to meet with the Careers Service to take these concerns forward.


Edwin Clifford-Coupe

The Careers Service replied promptly with the following:

Dear Edwin,

Thanks for your email. I have asked the vacancies officer to have a look at these adverts and she has come back with the following: – this one is a registered charity (Charity Number: 1000340) – linked to - they are a charity - 1096908 – according to the charity commission website they are linked to Norbury Charities Registered Charity Number: 217218 charity number 1037878 charity number 1113104

Therefore I am pleased to say that we are advertising them legally as unpaid internships / voluntary positions.

However, if you do spot a vacancy that you feel should not be there in the future, do please let me know. We have about 1600 on there and occasionally something may slip through the net, despite the fact that we do have a pretty rigorous checking procedure. So I think we have resolved UCLU’s mandate 4 and 5.

In terms of our policy, it can be found here. In brief, it says that we will not advertise any vacancy that does not comply with national minimum wage legislation. We do not bend this rule at all (I know some services will advertise internships that are unpaid and legally should be, if they are less than a certain duration). My employer liaison team have had a number of ‘discussions’ with employers who don’t feel they should pay. Ultimately we have refused to take their vacancies. We also lobbied our professional body AGCAS (The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) to have a code of practice on this as we know that different universities apply NMW legislation to different extents which is frankly not helpful to anyone.

I’m happy to see that the Careers Service are very strict about their adherance to NMW legislation. However, it could be argued that adherance to the law is not enough: while it may be legal to advertise unpaid voluntary work, is it right? I will responding to the Careers Service soon.