DCU Should Be Fighting To End Unpaid Internships, Not Encouraging Them

What we need to acknowledge is that unpaid work is, in fact, volunteering.

An annual Irish League of Credit Unions survey published on August 19 revealed some dismaying statistics on the financial struggles of third-level students in Ireland.

While 74% of students having to work during the college term to cope with costs is generally manageable, 55% of students say they often skip lectures in favour of paid work.

In Ireland, higher education, which students have worked hard to access, becomes a secondary priority to being able to survive financially and pay bills in a city as increasingly expensive as Dublin.

It seems Ireland needs to take a breath and reassess the system we have stood by and allowed to emerge.

Some of us have been incredibly lucky, finding part-time jobs on campus that are flexible and sympathetic to our study and extra-curricular schedules, but many of us have not.

Students deal with employers who are uncaring, disinterested and value total flexibility over the welfare of the student in their employment.

If we are to accept the reality that working part-time is now a near-essential element of attending university, we should at least expect a student to be paid well for their work.

We should certainly expect this within the walls of our own university. On this note I was dismayed to receive an email on August 26th, advertising an unpaid internship position with DCU’s Brexit Institute.

The institute who did not immediately respond to a request for comment conducts compelling research on the social and economic impacts of the UK exiting the European Union.

It is also funded by high-profile sponsors including AIB, Dublin Airport Central and Grant Thornton. However, in spite of the plentiful funding, the advertised role emerged as unpaid.

I have no doubt that a student working a few hours a week in this position would gain ‘experience’ and ‘valuable professional insight’ and a number of other buzzwords we so often hear in these discussions.

Unfortunately, students cannot pay rent or top up their leap card, with buzzwords or conceptual benefits.

It also will not compensate for the hours lost, where they could have been working a part-time job that has actual money on offer. Personally speaking, it would simply be financially foolish for me to accept any unpaid role that would cut into both my final year of college and my part-time job.

What we need to acknowledge is that unpaid work is, in fact, volunteering. And while volunteering can be fabulous and fulfilling for students, be it with a non-profit charity or local sports club, it’s beneficial largely because it doesn’t feel like work.

An internship in a well-funded academic institute simply doesn’t meet the criteria. Work is work, and students work as hard as anyone.

By: Lucien Waugh-Daly

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