Unpaid internships little help in getting creative graduates good jobs, research says

Embargoed until 0001 Tuesday 6 September 2016

Unpaid internships are little help in getting creative graduates a good job and can lead to a lower-paid post when they do, research shows.

Wil Hunt, of the University of Portsmouth, surveyed 615 British graduates between two to six years after they finished degrees in design, art and communications and found that one in four had done a paid or unpaid internship after leaving university.

He will tell the British Sociological Association’s conference on work, employment and society conference in Leeds today [Tuesday 6 September] that 72% of design, art and communications graduates had found a graduate level occupation.

This rose to 84% among those who had done a paid internship, but among those who had done unpaid internships the figure was 75%, little better than for non-interns.

Mr Hunt also found that when comparing those who had been interns with other graduates with the same degree grade and from the same kind of university, unpaid internships were linked to lower pay – around £16,000 a year, compared with £18,000 for graduates who had not done one. Paid internships did increase salaries, he found.

Mr Hunt said the findings were “particularly concerning” as official data on 2011/12 graduates showed that 70% of their internships in creative industries were unpaid.

“This finding is particularly concerning as unpaid internships were found to be more common than previously thought and because there was evidence that those from less well-off backgrounds were less able to access the better, paid internships,” said Mr Hunt.

“Graduates with no family experience of university – who tend to come from lower socio-economic classes – were less likely to have done the paid internships that boost the chance of a graduate-level job.

“It is generally assumed that paying interns helps level the playing field for less well-off graduates but the evidence here challenges these assumptions.”


  1. The subjects taken by design, art and communications students included graphic design, illustration, performing arts, fine art, cinematics, photography, fashion, textiles, crafts, journalism, publicity and media studies. The research, carried out as part of Mr Hunt’s PhD, refers to graduates in these areas only and did not extend to graduates in other subjects.
  1. Mr Hunt’s survey found that 95% of graduates who responded were in work overall, many with two or more jobs at the same time. He used regression analysis to compare how working in an internship helped graduates to find graduate-level and creative jobs when controlling for gender, ethnicity, degree grade and prestige of university, as well as other factors. This allowed him to measure the effect of internship experience on the chance of getting graduate-level or creative work. He found that when considering all the creative and graduate-level jobs that graduates had at the time of interview, two to six years after graduating, internships had not helped them to find these types of work. However, when considering only the job they spent most hours in, paid internships had boosted the chances of finding creative or graduate-level work.
  1. In a separate analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency Mr Hunt found that more than half (58 per cent) of graduates doing an internship were unpaid six months after graduation, rising to around two-thirds for graduates of some subject areas such as creative arts and design, architecture building and planning, and biological sciences. Industries where unpaid internships were particularly common included the creative industries, the media, sports and recreation and publishing where more than 70 per cent of interns were unpaid six months after graduation. The analysis was of UK and EU graduates from HESA’s ‘Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education’ survey and was based on data for the 2011/12 graduating cohort. Respondents were surveyed six months after leaving university. HESA Student Record 2011/12 HESA Destination of Leavers survey 2011/12 is copyright Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited 2013. HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.
  1. The Work Employment and Society conference takes place University of Leeds from 6 to 8 September 2016. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235  www.britsoc.co.uk

For more information, please contact:

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392