Student work placement scandal: Did you pay ‘tuition’ fees – then get sent out to do an unpaid job?

tuition fees work placement year in industry


Universities and employers have come under fire from students and graduates who are angry about being forced to undertake long, unpaid student work placements with private companies as part of essential ‘credit’ for their undergraduate degree course.

Young people have stressed that it is especially hard to make ends meet as maintenance loans are lower for their ‘Year in Industry’ than for regular years of their course.

Many are also unhappy they have had to pay ‘tuition’ fees for a period when they received no actual teaching from their institution but were instead sent out to work for free on a student work placement (although how much they are charged varies across universities).

The mounting pressure on universities and employers follows outrage about an advert which appeared online recently for a year-long unpaid ‘internship’ with fashion retailer Urban Outfitters:

Urban outfitters internship

A spokesperson for Urban Outfitters insisted it had done nothing wrong, telling BuzzFeed News:

“Unpaid internships are legal under UK law, as long as the intern is a student at an accredited college or university and will be receiving academic credit for the internship. Our UO Europe internships are designed to conform to applicable laws in that they are only offered in partnership with universities and offer substantial learning opportunities.”

Unfortunately, they are right. As unfair as it seems, at present there is nothing illegal about this practice.

Government guidelines state that, although an intern is entitled to the National Minimum Wage if they count as a worker, “Students required to do an internship for less than one year as part of a UK-based further or higher education course aren’t entitled to the National Minimum Wage”.

But does the law need to be tightened to prevent employers taking advantage of undergraduates desperate for course credit? And could more universities start using this legal loophole as a sneaky way to keep charging tuition fees for a service they aren’t actually providing? As universities face growing funding shortages and seek cheap solutions fast, Graduate Fog fears that we may see a rise in the number of institutions who attempt to replace teaching time with longer and longer unpaid work placements. 


Were you just shadowing, or did it feel like proper job? How long did it last – and did you pay tuition fees to your university during this time? Please share your experiences below – and let us know if this is a subject you’d like us to continue to cover on Graduate Fog… Thanks!


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