We don’t have any historical figures to compare this to, so it’s impossible to tell whether the number of paid internships are rising or falling. And in the interests of balance, we should point out that the internships in question were strictly formal arrangements with companies, where the students had a list of duties and were working set hours, rather than the more usual (and frequently unpaid) week making tea and hoping someone will notice you. Which, presumably, means the week of unpaid work experience is flourishing as much as it always was.
Nevertheless, that well over half of placements are paid does suggest that recent campaigns to encourage employers to pay their interns seem to be working. Earlier this year, the TUC published a code of practice for ‘high-quality internships’, which set out rules on hosting placements. The rules stipulated that companies offering a placement of six weeks or more should pay the national minimum wage to their intern ‘if they’re contributing to a company’ and have set working hours.
There is a slight downside to all this championing of intern rights: namely, that businesses which can’t afford to pay an intern (and, at the moment, there are quite a few) are being put off the idea of taking on students for short periods of time. Which means the students themselves miss out on valuable experience. So while its pursuit of fair pay for interns is perfectly laudable, the TUC must avoid throwing the baby out with the bath-water.