A young journalist has sparked intense debate online after claiming many of her fellow graduates are not worth paying because they don’t have the skills and experience that employers want – and that “Many companies are doing interns a favour, not the other way around”. But is she a traitor to her generation – or a victim of exploitation herself?

In an article posted yesterday on Independent Voices (the Independent’s comment section), Lauren Razavi – a graduate of the University of East Anglia – wrote:

“Employers shouldn’t be expected to pay for interns who bring no value to their business. Many companies are doing interns a favour, not the other way around. We don’t live in a society where we can pat ourselves on the back for simply having a degree. It’s not enough: organisations want skilled workers in today’s job market.

“…I’m not saying that all graduates should be forced into free labour after university. Those who have used their time wisely whilst studying definitely shouldn’t be doing unpaid work. But there’s a huge distinction between those who have taken advantage of the opportunities university offers and those who haven’t.

“…In the real world, having maintained an exuberant lifestyle for the entirety of your degree won’t get you into a paid internship or graduate-level employment. Those who leave university unskilled and inexperienced need a foot in the door. This is where unpaid internships are useful.

“And, before someone says it, this isn’t about privilege. This is not about the bank of mummy and daddy funding you to live in Kensington. Nor is it about sustaining an unpaid working life of popping down to Starbucks to buy coffee for the office every day for six months.

“Some of the most motivated, proactive and hard-grafting people I know are from low-income backgrounds. I am too. Largely, they’re the ones who made the most of their time studying and have gone on to accomplish great things. Money — or lack thereof — is not an excuse to slack off.

“…The position of being underqualified when you graduate comes from an irresponsible attitude towards your time at university. Young people should have to face the consequences of missed opportunities.

“Nothing comes from nothing, and that’s an important lesson to learn. Let’s reach the point where unpaid internships are obsolete because the pool of graduates is of such a high standard, they should all be paid. At the moment, that’s simply not the case.”

In response to the piece, Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald wrote:

“This kind of piece makes me really sad but it’s a good reminder of why it’s so vital for us to keep campaigning on this issue.

“Lauren, you’re clearly a smart, articulate girl with no time for whingers. Your talent has obviously got you a long way, and that you deserve to be proud of yourself! But I would say you are the exception to the rule. I hear from hundreds of unpaid interns every week and I can tell you that the problem is completely out of control. The vast majority of people who describe themselves as unpaid interns are working extremely hard doing proper, full-time jobs for no wages.

“…I think what you’re referring to is the current grey area between work and work shadowing. And I think you’re right that a clearer distinction should be made, as this would help both employers and young workers. If something is a job, advertise it properly, interview candidates, pick the best one and pay them a wage. If someone’s output isn’t valuable enough to pay them, they can always do some (genuine) volunteering or go on a course to build their skills and confidence. But people doing real, valuable work must be paid for their contribution. Divorcing pay from work leads nowhere good.”


Has she betrayed her fellow graduates by siding with employers – or does she make a good point? Or has her view of unpaid internships been distorted by being exploited herself? Post your comment below this story…

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