It’s that time of year: boxes ticked, application forms submitted, brushing up for those verbal/ non-verbal/ competency/ psychometric and what-not tests, fortunate ones sprucing up for interviews. And think of all those managers, clicking their knuckles awaiting the summer to see all those eager students and graduates willing to take the voluntary unpaid work.  Or internship, to you and I: the established stepping-stone to employment.

This is a subjective matter and clearly depends upon all the variables involved: the organisation, the staff, the type of work, your plans and your character.  If an internship means I’ll have to struggle financially in the short term for a couple of months yet gain long term benefits – I’ll take it.  It’s an investment.  The right internship can provide invaluable experience and the networks, knowledge and skills gained can take the place of a credit card.  Demonstrating that you have the edge on your CV goes a long way when wooing potential employers.  Of course, this is based on my experience of embarking on a full time, two-month unpaid internship last summer.  It was a drain, I was skint but I was open-minded, was clear and determined in my intentions that I needed to improve my skills and genuinely wanted to get a better insight into how politics work.  I met some of the most inspiring people, who genuinely care about society.  It helped that I was shown gratitude and was taken out for lunch a couple of times.  I developed my skills and became a more confident person.  Having already spent summers working in retail and made to feel lousy, uninspired,  and knowing that the minimum wage was all I was working for, I knew that I had nothing to lose in taking an unpaid internship.  Money really isn’t everything.

Let me be clear: ‘unpaid labour’ is just that. It’s exploitation, and it’s unethical.  It’s important to provide the legal definition of what constitutes work.  It refers to a set number of hours in which a person is engaged for an extended period of time and being given a defined role, rather than just observing.  The law says that anyone working at the age of 22 or over needs to be paid the national minimum wage.  In contrast, a volunteer is under no obligation to perform work, has no contract or formal arrangement and has no expectation of and do not receive any reward for the work they do besides having their expenses reimbursed.  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills set up the Graduate Talent Pool, ( wouldn’t be surprised if it has now been axed)and the major concern is that graduates from less well-off backgrounds and those burdened with thousands of pounds of student debt are affected most.  I am that poor graduate and the fact of the matter is everyone else is taking unpaid internships anyway.  There’s a demand for it, especially when it has recently been announced that more 16-24 year olds are out of work right now than at any other time since records began.  Paid internships are gold dust, and having an unpaid internship under your belt will enhance the chance of getting a paid one.

Quid pro quo, or ‘something for something’- that’s what internships are about.  The unethical aspect of some internships is not the fact that they are being unpaid.  The unethical aspect is that the intern did not know what to expect and are exploited instead.  So being an unpaid intern should not mean that you have nothing to do, except refilling the coffee-machine.  I think it’s important for the individual to assess whether the internship is ethical or exploitative, but helpfully the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development has produced these guidelines:

  • Interns should be recruited openly, in the same way as other employees.
  • Interns should be given as much responsibility and diversity in their work as possible.
  • Interns should be allowed time off to attend job interviews.
  • Interns should have a proper induction.
  • Organisations should allocate a specific individual to supervise interns, mentor them, and conduct a formal performance review to evaluate the success of their time with the organisation.
  • On completion of the internship, organisations should provide interns with a reference letter.

Internships offer more than volunteering and random paid jobs.  What is important is that the employer is clear right from the beginning what will be expected, what will be accomplished, and what won’t be on the agenda.  They are supposed to make sure the intern will gain something genuinely useful.  If not, it’s not an internship then.



These are times of austerity.  The public should not be contributing for students to pursue subjects that will not benefit the country or the economy.  With a tight-fisted budget, practical and cautious choices need to be made.  It makes common sense for students to take prudent degree choices, in a time when there isn’t much scope for being reckless.  It is good advice for students to be fiscally prudent, especially at a time in which ½ million jobs in the public sector are forecast in the coming years.  They don’t have to heed this advice.  But if they want a job and pay off their debts as soon as possible and have some security, taking a utilitarian subject is the way to go.

In an ideal situation, people should be encouraged to pursue their passions.  But we have to tackle the deficit.  The Spending Review unveiled a 28% cut to local government funding over the next four years – down from £28 billion to £21 billion.  Building Schools for the future programme has been axed.  Universities are facing huge cuts.  It would be untenable for the coalition to cut benefits to families further, and the NHS has already been ring-fenced.  Most people would say that in times of austerity, training more doctors, nurses and teachers is the priority.  Most people would rather have a hospital than have millions spent on museums and art galleries.  Perhaps this is why the Arts and Humanities Research Council funding has been cut.  The Comprehensive Spending Review revealed how funding for teaching will be cut by £3.2bn and a further £1bn will be cut from research funding.  Of course, this is a difficult choice, but something has to give.

What this country needs is for people to graduate with good degrees in subjects that will help them to find jobs.  Between 2000 to 2007, graduates contributed to a 6% growth in the private sector.  This needs to be applauded and encouraged further.  Utilitarianism, that old Benthamite ideal, emphasises the moral worth of doing something that is determined solely on its usefulness.   So when Browne explains that ‘There are clinical and priority courses such as medicine, sciences and engineering that are important to the well being of our society and economy’, he is right.  It makes common sense.  I think we can all agree that funding people to save the lives of others is certainly a priority.  This is not to say that only the subjects that Browne mentions are useful.  Many other subjects have higher levels of transferrable skills.  The utility of a subject to the country can be measured in the way the graduate contributes and adds value to society.  This being economic or social value.  If certain subjects increase employability in a graduate, thus reducing unemployment and increasing the number of tax payers, this is what needs to be encouraged.

There is a fallacy that utilitarian subjects may be boring, or that students will not perform well if they do not take up subjects that they are passionate about.  No one is saying that everyone must study engineering or medicine.  Things only have a utility if you make it so.  There is a plethora of degrees leading to networking opportunities and successful jobs.  But there is no question that certain degrees provide an added advantage to the graduate by including internship opportunities with business partners.  This type of practical experience in the work place is invaluable now.  If students are offered such courses that will make it easier for them to find a job, it makes sense to encourage this.

We now have a situation in which some degrees that are offered are absolutely absurd.  This is at the taxpayers’ expense.  For example, the University of Plymouth offers a BSc Surf Science and Technology.  Even worse are Gambling degree at Salford and a degree in bed selling at Bucks New University.  You couldn’t make this up.  How on earth will such degrees provide transferable skills or employability?  If people want to pursue their passions this is fine, but it does not make sense for the public to be asking for the public to reach into their pockets to pay for this.

I am proud that I marched on 10th November 2010.  I was a part of the 52,000 students from across the country that showed how we stand in solidarity against the coalition government’s cuts.  People were angry.  Off course.  People did shout ‘Tory scum’.  F*ck the fees was written on placards.  The truth is the protest was not hijacked.  Most of the students that filled the foyer and the roof of Millbank were not anarchists, they distinguished themselves from those that were involved in violence and booed the idiot that threw the fire extinguisher off the roof.  But no matter how much the media has dictated the discourse of the protest by focusing on the broken windows at 30 Millbank, the main message is loud and clear: ‘No ifs.  No buts. No education cuts.’

There was gross sensationalism and misrepresentation from the media.  How many protestors were even aware with what was happening at Tory HQ (which, by the way, is owned by the Reuben brothers, prominent party donors whose fortune totals £5 billion)?   Images of students portrayed as violent ravenous orcs, that image of a masked man kicking at one of those glass plate windows and confronting policemen was constantly shown as breaking news on the 24 hour rolling news channels, and splashed on the covers of newspapers.  It was the issue of debate on every radio show.  The worst was on Newsnight, in which Paxman interviewed both Aaron Porter (President of NUS who condemned what had happened) and Claire Solomon (President of ULU, who had actually marched into Millbank) and focused completely on the ‘affirmative action’.  The next day the London Student sent out a poll asking students whether they agreed with the actions of Claire Solomon- it seemed as though this was becoming a witch hunt.  There was absolute outrage that Goldsmith’s congratulated students.  Students were being forced to align themselves in which camp they were in, the peaceful protestors or the violent ones.  This was all divisive, and shifted the focus away from the crux of the matter.


Emmeline Pankhurst said that, “There is something that governments care for more than human life and that is the security of property.”  The fact that no one is questioning how the government will smash up the future of so many is perhaps a reflection of this.  Yet, the boys of the Bullingdon Club are used to smashing up things and getting away with it.  What did we expect?

But, the fight is not over.  The NUS have not recoiled, but have launched the ‘Right to Recall’ campaign.  Despite Nick Clegg’s comments in his Hugo Young lecture on the 23rd November, ‘I know that more protests are planned by students tomorrow. I make just one request of those planning to protest: examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and look before you march and shout’ – students still have the bottle to respond.


You would think that with the increase in tuition fees, travel costs and high levels of redundancy, students would be the first ones at the polling stations.  It is hardly unreasonable to claim that KCL students have every right to express their wrath with regards to the MP’s expenses scandal.  How many normal people would be able to claim for the expenses of clearing a moat, as Douglas Hogg did?  What ordinary Joe Blog would be petulant enough to make a ridiculous claim for a duck house or Hobnobs?  Whilst the Government bails out the bankers, universities are forced to make cuts.  KCL students in particular ought to know what this means- just talk to any student or staff from the engineering department.  However, despite all of this, there is political apathy and lack of student activism, with regards to the Strand Campus in particular, which I find disconcerting.  We had the student elections a couple of weeks ago: how many people bothered to vote?  In fact, I am not aware that anyone handed me a leaflet to vote for them, I don’t recall anyone with badges or rosettes and megaphones.  In fact, were there any hustings or a platform for us to actually engage and question candidates over their manifestos?  Of course, there have been fantastic posters and campaigning via facebook and twitter.  I am fully aware that voting online has made the process far more practical.  Yet the worrying thing for me is that many students hardly care.

Perhaps this is because the British population as a whole are indifferent to politics.  The common reasoning being that ‘they are all the same’ anyway.  When we hear interviews that politicians give, like the infamous one by Sir Nicholas Winterton who claimed that MP’s had the right to claim for first class rail travel, because people in standard-class carriages were a ‘different type of people’ who would ‘peer over his shoulder’, it is not churlish of people to think that politicians are unrepresentative.  Being sceptical of politicians is a thoroughly British sentiment anyway: we’re all wandering how convenient it is that Samantha Cameron is pregnant during her husband’s election campaign, or how Gordon Brown became all sentimental in that Piers Morgan interview, and well, sceptical of Nick Clegg in general.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that there is so much at stake on May 6th.  Recent polls are close and there is a growing possibility of there being a hung parliament.  It is hard to miss the extra effort that the main parties are putting in to pull in the voters and sway the floater voters.  It won’t work, but it’s a good try.  Whether it’s the first American style television debates, or through the ‘alternative elections’ via twitter, Facebook and YouTube or the commentary on the frocks of the wives, it is impossible to ignore the elections.

So what I cannot fathom is why students are so indifferent?  This will be the first General Election that I will be voting in, as is the case for most undergraduates.  At the time of writing this, the main parties have announced their manifestos- all of which will probably affect us now or in the near future.  Surely that’s an incentive?

On the other hand, perhaps the student population have been made to be apathetic by the politicians themselves.  For how long should we endure those damned lies, broken promises, illegal wars…the list of deception goes on.  In addition, perhaps the rosy days of a vibrant and active student population are over.  Yes, we are no longer in the 1960’s and some of us need to part-time jobs, and simply do not have the time to go to meetings or campaign.  But if that is the case, that is a dire indictment of society.  It won’t resolve anything if we sit in a bubble and do nothing!  The youth are meant to be the movers and shakers and initiating change.  It was the youth in South Africa that challenged Apartheid in the Soweto uprising, June 16th 1976.  It was the students that made the first public protests against the Vietnam War.  And yes, at KCL we also have the capability to be active and make a stand against injustice, as was seen last year when students protested against the War in Gaza.

Earlier this year, I was in Chapters and a guy who wanted to be a student councillor asked me what issues are concerning me.  I explained that I was worried that there was not enough accountability- there ought to be frequent meetings with the Sabbatical Officers.  Annual General Meetings are not enough.  Students from different societies and clubs should be able to interact and engage more, so perhaps we ought to have stalls on a Wednesday afternoon in the car park to provide a vibrant atmosphere.  Also, there should be hustings.  His only response: ‘Oh, you know what hustings are?’  I think that sums it all.