A professor at the London School of Journalism has blasted the practice of paying for work placements, saying a financial trade in career opportunities is ‘unethical’ and gives poorer graduates no chance.

The comments of Lis Howell – deputy head of journalism at City University – follow the disturbing rise in work experience placements that are not only unpaid, but for which the ‘workee’ is expected to stump up a fee. The practice is seen by many as a gross extreme of the creeping ‘work-for-nothing’ culture that is already slashing poorer graduates’ chances of competing for jobs on a level playing field.

Monday’s Times2 reported a rise in what Graduate Fog would describe as the work experience ‘black market’, where middle-class parents are forking out thousands of pounds on paid-for ‘internships’, to give their children the chance to stand out in a jobs market where a degree is no longer seen as enough.

At a Tory party fundraising event last week, an auction saw a placement at Ecosse Films ‘sell’ for £3,000 – and a slot at the magazine house Conde Nast went for £3,700. Granted, the cash from these bids didn’t go directly to the companies offering the placements. However, these golden career opportunities were still being bought by those with money – and not offered to those without.

Howell said:

“We organise placements for students with companies and it’s usually a win-win situation. The idea that the students have to pay to do it is unethical.”

If it continues, Howell fears it will lead to the sort of discrimination that hasn’t been seen for decades.

“It’s going back 30 years to the time when you could be a lawyer only if you could afford to be indentured. It’s a very retrograde step.”

Graduate Fog agrees – a black market for work experience is a grubby thing indeed. How on earth did we get here?

* Missed the Times2 feature? Read it here

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