I have just completed a year in industry which is part of my course at the London College of Fashion. I worked seven days a week for a whole year, 5 days unpaid as an intern (expenses were paid) in London and 2 days at the weekend in retail so I could afford to live. I was also fortunate enough to have the support from my parents, although I know it was a huge struggle for them to help me out, and my other two sisters suffered, for my benefit, and without their help I would not have been able to do it.
I believe my internship was fantastically educational for me and was lucky enough to get to work at Paris and London Fashion Weeks and was much appreciated as one of the team. It was a very small high end company I worked for (only 3 of us full time), but I’m glad I did it. It was the most challenging year of my life, and I cried a lot of the year, but at the end of it I have a great deal of experience to show for it. I believe that once I have graduated, I would not do an unpaid internship again, as it was so hard, physically, emotionally and financially.
My main problem comes with the university itself. The university, in wanting to get their students into the top companies, fail to realise that they are actually undermining our futures by making deals with these companies. At the end of my final year, I hope that the expensive education I have paid for has not been a complete waste and that I will be able to get a well paid job a the end of it, but I have a feeling that it wont be so easy.
In undertaking the sandwich degree, we were told that we would have to pay half of our fees for the year. For this we were told we would get two visits from our tutors at uni and they would come to our company, speak to our manager and see how we were getting on and regularly email us to make sure everything was ok. Throughout my year in industry, I was only contacted once, not by my tutor but by the Fashion Business Resource Studio, to make sure things were going well. I had access to the university library, and had to write a report on my year and consequently dealt with the person marking this just once, with feedback on my proposal. I am also aware that it was the same for the majority of my classmates, and previous students. My point is that my university made promises to me which they did not keep and I had to pay more than £1500 for the pleasure. This year I was also only able to get half my student loan which was insignificant and this was the year I felt I needed the money the most.
I believe that if the companies are to change, then the universities themselves need to stop, (figuratively speaking), prostituting out their students, and make a written agreement with these companies so that these students cannot be exploited. I also think working for free for a certain period of time could be allowable, for example 3 months, but any longer and it becomes unreasonable. This is the only way it will change, and the students themselves need a better understanding of how working for free will affect them in the longrun.