This is very odd indeed. Westminster, one of the most expensive public schools in the UK, is holding a fund-raising auction. In this auction, you can buy an internship at Imperial College’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, on the promise that this will look great on your CV.
“On offer is a one week internship at the Institute for an A-level student. This placement promises a fascinating insight into the field of biomedical engineering and would be a wonderful addition to the CV of any budding scientist.”
Internships like these are bad at the best of times. As I’ve written before, on the topic of full time 6 month internships, these actively exacerbate social inequality in the professions, by giving a leg up to those who can afford to pay.
This isn’t just distasteful. In the media, and in politics, it is now recognised that unpaid internships are harmful to the culture of these professions: unpaid entry posts mean that the children of wealthy parents get in, get ahead, and do better, because their families can afford to give them money to pay rent and live in London while they earn no salary.
Unequal entrance to professions for the children of wealthy parents exaggerates an already unequal society. I think you could also argue – though I am happy to agree this is a more tenuous point – that since lower levels of wealth and income are associated with specificethnic groups, this employment policy from universities is frankly racist.
…These kinds of posts are common, so I certainly don’t blame individuals. But I do think we need a serious national debate on whether we think they are okay.
The opportunities of the next generation, and the shape of our professions, are being determined by the wealth of peoples’ parents.
It’s especially sad to see this being driven so openly in academia.
This Imperial College internship takes the problem to a whole new level, by actively charging. I don’t doubt that Westminster public school (£7,236 a term) wants to do lovely constructive things with the money. Selling access to professions is not the way to do it.
I’m pleased to see that Imperial College Students Union are already on the case here:
Imperial College Union was informed this morning of the auctioning of an internship in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering.
The Sabbaticals concerned condemn this, in the strongest terms, and in the absence of a Union Council resolution are working to have the auction removed.
It is our fundamental belief that access to education should be based on merit, not ability to pay; and that efforts to widen access to an Imperial education to students from disadvantaged backgrounds are a central part of the College’s academic mission. As the auction page says, this opportunity will give “a fascinating insight into the field of biomedical engineering and would be a wonderful addition to the CV of any budding student”. For a publicly-funded body to restrict this transformational opportunity only to the wealthy is a betrayal of our academic principles and the work to widen access to which so many staff and students have given their time.
And here is a barnstorming piece from the Imperial College newspaper:
That this should ever have happened is a pretty disappointing reminder of the barriers to equal access.
Here’s another internship to make you feel queasy, via @davidecarroll @Holliboll @izzybraithwaite:
“Take advantage of this exclusive opportunity for a 6-week internship in NYC working for Bruce Knotts, Chair of the UN-NGO Committee on Human Rights. You will gain inside knowledge of just how the UN really operates and have tremendous opportunities to make invaluable connections. This truly is the ultimate internship opportunity for any college or graduate student looking to get their foot in the door!”
Currently at just $26,000.
Here’s Robert Peston on internships:
And it looks like the lawyers were criticising Westminster school and barristers over this internship auction as long ago as last week:
Meanwhile the auction page for the Imperial College science internship has disappeared, screengrab copy below:
A last update: