Graduate Fog was gobsmacked to discover that the University of Greenwich has been promoting unpaid internships to its students, in a clear breach of guidelines issued by the careers services’ official body AGCAS, which has publicly condemned the practice as ‘exploitative’.

Part of the advertisement – which appeared on the university’s own website and was promoting a presentation on campus by controversial recruitment company Inspiring Interns – read:

An internship is an excellent way to get a head start in the transition between a student environment to a working environment. Not only will it distinguish you from other graduates but it will also give you an invaluable insight into how a business operates in the real world. Inspiring Interns work closely with their clients to ensure that your internship will be targeted, tailored and closely matched to what you are looking for to make your experience as beneficial as possible…

…Inspiring Interns’ aim is to find appropriate and meaningful internships, jobs and work placements for a broad range of internships for graduates disadvantaged by difficult economic conditions: developing skills, increasing employability and creating careers. They understand the challenges faced by graduates, having all been through the graduate recruitment process, and are working to create opportunities at companies where there is potential for inspiring interns to earn full employment.

Yet – in an open letter to the Guardian in August – AGCAS made it crystal clear that it condemned the practice of getting graduates to work for free and voiced strong concerns that unpaid internships restrict social mobility and prey on the vulnerability and desperation of young workers.

ACGAS’ director Martin Pennington wrote:

Current legislation makes clear the circumstances under which employers can offer such unpaid internships and any employers contravening this should rightly face legal challenges.

The experience of many university (HE) careers services, however, is that some employers are nevertheless offering such internships with impunity, and that graduates, desperate to secure a toehold in the job market, are taking these up.

This places careers services in the invidious position of wishing to provide for their graduates by advertising such opportunities but not wanting to collude in law breaking.

…Asked whether the government should clamp down on unpaid internships, 85% [of AGCAS members] voted ‘Yes’ to the proposition.

Unpaid internships are not just exploitative of individuals but also restrict social mobility, as they are disproportionately difficult for graduates from lower socio-economic groups to take up, and reduce the number of entry level jobs for graduates and others.

Current advice from AGCAS to its members is that they shouldn’t advertise or broker internships that contravene legislation.

AGCAS does not, of course, wish to stand in the way of individuals’ career opportunities nor of economic growth, but has a responsibility to speak on behalf of HE careers services, and graduates, placed in this pernicious dilemma.

Accordingly, it calls on government to take action on employers offering unpaid internships illegally and, if appropriate, to review policy and legislation governing internships so that the benefits of these are available to all and none is exploited.

The mismatch is startling, isn’t it?

So on Thursday 4 November I contacted the University of Greenwich, to ask what was going on:


My name is Tanya de Grunwald and I run a graduate careers advice website called Graduate Fog.

I am interested to see that the University of Greenwich is working with Inspiring Interns and would like to ask you more about this, if I may.

It is unusual to see university careers services promoting unpaid opportunities – you are probably aware that AGCAS has publicly condemned unpaid internships – so I am surprised to see that you are working with Inspiring Interns. Are you aware that they take a fee of £500 from every employer, for every month that each intern works, while the interns themselves are paid only £200 – which is far less than the NMW?

I would be grateful if you could email me some kind of response to explain your decision to work with this company, in light of AGCAS’s stated position on internships.

With many thanks,


I sent a similar email to AGCAS, whose press officer replied:

Hi Tanya,

Thank you for bringing this case to AGCAS’s attention. Your time-frame for a response for your blog was short and I have not been able to talk to anyone at the University of Greenwich or Inspiring Interns about this case.

However, you are aware of AGCAS’s position statement – – and we continue to draw the attention of AGCAS members, students and graduates, employers, government and  the media to it.

We know that government is aware of the concerns of AGCAS and other organisations and individuals. We do urge them to enforce legislation through parliament and the courts — or take steps to change the legislation through parliament.

Once this happens, employers and brokers of internships in all sectors will undoubtedly become more circumspect.

Best wishes,

I replied:

Thanks for this

So, just to be clear here – do you agree that the University of Greenwich appears to have acted against the AGCAS guidelines on internships? If so, do you plan to speak to them about this? Will AGCAS alert its members to this case and warn them about working with companies like Inspiring Interns?

Also, do you feel it is important that all universities are consistent on this issue? I know that a lot of my users will feel extremely let down by the actions of the University of Greenwich. Can they trust the careers advisers at their own universities not to do the same?

I can give you more time if you need it.

Thanks again,


She replied:

Hello Tanya,

I have now spoken to the head of the careers service at the University of Greenwich, who is investigating this issue.

The AGCAS position statement and its recommendations for government, careers services, employers and students and graduates are clearly set out in the position statement at

AGCAS won’t comment publicly on individual cases and I’m afraid I have to close the dialogue here so that I can get on with supporting careers services to offer high quality services to students and graduates and conveying AGCAS’s messages, such as this position statement and the importance of high-quality careers information, education, advice and guidance to government, higher education institutions, employers, students and graduates etc.

Best wishes,

The same day, this response arrived from the University of Greenwich’s Head of Guidance and Employability Team:

Dear Tanya,

We intend to suspend our advert for Inspiring Internships while we consider this matter further. Thank you for your concern.

Kind regards,

So we have a result!

However, I feel this whole sorry story raises serious questions that demand answers:

– Do uni careers staff understand the unpaid internships issue? The text in the ad suggests that those at Greenwich just don’t get it. But they should– it’s their job. Students look to their university’s careers service as an authoritative source of information and advice. I believe that telling students that unpaid internships are anything other than outrageous, exploitative bull**** is irresponsible, negligent and undermines the important campaign for interns to be paid the wage they deserve. It is vital that careers advisers understand this issue and make sure that they are always on the side of their students and graduates, not those who seek to ‘sell’ these placements. This sort of incident is extremely damaging to their relationship with students, who should be able to trust them. (I have written about a related subject before in the post Can you trust your uni careers adviser?)

What is a university doing using its resources (website, venue and staff) to promote Inspiring Interns? It is well known that this is a controversial (and private) recruitment company which earns more for each interns’ placement than the intern earns themselves. (As reported previously on Graduate Fog, Inspiring Interns makes £500 per month the intern works, compared with the interns’ pay packet of £200 per month – which, well spotted, is far below the NMW). Why is a university working with them? Did the University of Greenwich receive a fee from Inspiring Interns, in exchange for hosting this event?

Why did the University of Greenwich ignore the official guidelines from AGCAS? If the University of Greenwich was aware of the guidelines, why breach them? And if they were not aware of them, why weren’t they aware of them? Does this case highlight a problem with the communication methods between AGCAS and its members?

*What do you think?
If you’re a student or graduate, does your university promote unpaid internships – and do you think AGCAS right to advise them not to? If you’re a careers adviser, do you promote – or broker – these placements to your students and graduates? If not, why not?

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