Every student should go on an internship giving them up to 12 weeks of work experience while they study for their degree, a top-level government inquiry recommends today.
The report acknowledges that many of the internships will be unpaid and urges universities to use their hardship funds to subsidise those from poorer families.
Otherwise, it acknowledges, the could end up by just giving those from better-off homes an advantage in the jobs market.
“Where internships are unpaid, universities should use their ‘OFFA (Office for fair access, the universities access watchdog) fund’ (cash to help disadvantaged students) to support eligible students rather than condone a policy that could inhibit social mobility,” says the inquiry report.
The inquiry team, headed by Professor Sir Tim Wilson – former vice-chancellor of Hertfordshire University, also points out that fear of student debt is limiting the number of students who opt to take “sandwich” degrees – where students are seconded to industry for up to a year.
It suggests universities should slash their fees to £1,000 a year for the courses – with the students who undertake not counting towards the overall cap on student numbers for individual universities, At present, they can charge up to £4,500 for “sandwich” courses.
Universities Minister David Willetts, welcoming the report, said he felt it was “a legitimate use of OFFA funding” to pay for unpaid internships for students. Professor Wilson that many of the programmes could be run during the summer holidays.
However, the report adds, it would be wrong to use the same pot to pay for internships once students had graduated.
Mr Willetts said that – if they were employed as interns to do specific work – they should be paid. If not, an internship could be unpaid.
Employers are also warned against limiting themselves to recruiting from top universities and students with a 2:1 degree pass.
“A filter that limits recruitment to a particular set of universities, a 2:1 standard and a defined UCAS entry threshold (A-level point score) to the corporate sector are not uncommon requirements,” it says.
Such a filter could again discriminate against students from poorer homes and would not “necessarily” be “consistent with a diversity agenda that the company may operate”.
Professor Wilson’s team also recommend that students who are sponsored with their fees being paid by firms should also be exempt from counting towards the cap on student numbers.
Mr Willetts said the Government would study the report’s recommendations before making a response.