Recent research conducted at Bournemouth University shows that unpaid placements could put students into financial difficulties and even lead to poor mental health.
Students who are required to complete a placement less than a year long are not entitled to national minimum wage, causing them to pay out of pocket for expenses including travel, work clothes, accommodation, and socialising to match their peers.
The research, published in October by Dr Julie Robson, senior principle academic in marketing at Bournemouth University, suggests that students from low-income backgrounds may opt out of placements due to financial strain.
Despite research published in 2014 showing that placements improve students’ grades, this is not always the case. Studies into student well-being have demonstrated a link between financial problems and poor mental health.
“It can be a cause of students discontinuing their studies.”
“People from wealthier backgrounds are more able to take on placements, […] through connections they can even find placements which pay quite well,” Dr Robson said. This is not the case with students from low income families, “it can be a cause of students discontinuing their studies.”
Footing the bill
Alex, a graduate from Bournemouth University who withheld his surname, recalled paying £340 for transport to London during his month-long placement. He said that the university should provide more support: “[It] depends on circumstances. I think [the university] should cover it since we’re paying [them] so much, at the same time if it’s an unrealistic or amazing opportunity then it’s your choice.”
Dr Robson suggested that pressure should be put on the government: “There needs to be equity on internships,” she said, “there’s already a lot of debt in the UK, we could do more to support students who are going through the system.”
If you’re a Bournemouth University student worried about the cost of a placement, you may be eligible for the Placement Opportunity Fund.