Philip Whiteley's Blog

December 13, 2010

Interring aspiration with internships

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 2:57 pm

As the authorities in London clear up the mess left by the violent clashes between demonstrators and police last week, it’s clear that higher education policy is also in a bit of a mess. Unplanned, unfunded expansion of full-time degree courses, many of dubious quality, by the last Labour government, has been followed by a hike in tuition fees and student loan requirements by the Coalition Government. Protests have been particularly fierce because the Liberal Democrats, junior partners in the Coalition, have supported a policy directly opposed to one that they campaigned on.

They probably also reflect the feeling that, increasingly, a prized degree from a highly respected university is reserved for the well-off. I’m uneasy about the policy. I think a better one would be rationalisation of the university sector, with subsidies preserved for fewer, higher quality courses. If your desired profession is very practical – marketing, journalism, business management etc – you would probably be better off working and taking vocational courses than spending three years on a campus. You would learn more as well avoiding debt.

However, the barriers don’t stop there. Even more pernicious than the high tuition fees is the massive growth of internships. Prestigious employers increasingly hire unpaid graduates to gain experience, and this is often a route to a highly prized career. Obviously, the offspring of the wealthy and well-connected can better afford and arrange this. You read very little about such practices, and I suspect that it is largely because the media are among the worst offenders. This includes left-wing titles like The Guardian and The Independent. I have recently supported the Twitter campaign for freelance journalist Girish Gupta to be paid by the Indie for bylined articles. As well as being unethical to refuse payment, it may be against minimum wage law, depending on the circumstances. Not something you’ll read about in the papers.

For the extraordinary exchange of emails between Girish and the Indie, click here

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