Pot, Kettle, Sunday Mail - Internship Auction at Westminster School
May 16, 2013 10:31 AM   Subscribe

The New Elitism of Internships "Now we have fresh evidence, straight from the highest halls of power, that the world of internships is a morally bankrupt free-for-all, a new glass ceiling in the making: the Tories have been auctioning them off at a recent fundraiser, as reported in the Mail on Sunday and called out by Jackie Ashley on Comment is Free. The Mail reported that prestigious internship positions in a range of industries (finance, hedge-fund work, fashion, media and so on) recently raised more than £20,000 for the Conservatives at the exclusive Black and White party." posted by marienbad (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Those guys.
posted by slater at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2013


Loving "mini-pupillages" as a word.
posted by Renoroc at 10:41 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


But you see, if you'd only work harder, peons, you too could afford to work for no pay. Buying your opportunities is the purest form of capitalism there is!
posted by Happy Dave at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Minimum wage laws should be ruthlessly enforced.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:50 AM on May 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Bill Clinton wasn't so bad!
posted by bukvich at 10:58 AM on May 16, 2013


This was in the Private Eye too.

Although it is a little funny Jackie Ashley calling this out. Her husband is Andrew Marr (who is also calling it out!) and she's the daughter of Jack Ashley, a well-known politician. English society is already incredibly inbred at the top and auctioning work experience will only make it worse.
posted by Jehan at 11:00 AM on May 16, 2013


yeah...this 'intern' shit has got to stop.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:00 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bill Clinton wasn't so bad!

Only if you had a vagina and a blue dress?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:05 AM on May 16, 2013


Are internships like this in the UK generally paid or unpaid?
posted by elizardbits at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2013


seriously - one week internships? C'mon.
posted by JPD at 11:16 AM on May 16, 2013


Comment from an alumnus: "...My high school, Westminster School, is offering internships at auction as a means to raise funds..... Junior, remind me: what is it you said you wanted to be when you grow up? A lawyer, eh? Yes, yes, don’t worry. Daddy will take care of it. ..." Whole post here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:21 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jehan: This was in the Private Eye too.

Yeah, and Private Eye pointed out that when "[e]ach work placement donor was asked if they would be willing to provide 2 places - one to be auctioned and one for the School to pass along to a pupil at one of our partner state schools - and some have chosen to do so", the Mail on Sunday decided that actually, they don't really want any state school oiks doing work experience, and they would only offer a place to a Westminster School pupil whose parent won the auction.


elizardbits: Are internships like this in the UK generally paid or unpaid?

Oh, this is 15 year old school kids on work experience for a week or two, for the most part, and never paid. It's more a chance for kids to get a week or two of experience in getting used to turning up for work, being given dreary, soul-crushing and repetitive tasks to do, and being ignored by management, than it is the kind of internship where they ask you to write the front page lead or argue a legal motion, and then pay you in shit coffee and verbal abuse.

I did my work experience with an architect's firm, back when that's what I wanted to study; I didn't do much more than inhaling ammonia fumes from the blueprint printer that I was charged with keeping an eye on. The most complicated thing I did was tramp over a field of mud to hold a marked-in-metres stick so an architectural surveyor could peer at it through a theodolite.
posted by Len at 11:24 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I was a Brit living under a Tory government I would never stop wanting to punch people in the face.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:24 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are plenty of longer term unpaid internships around in the UK. There's a campaign group on this issue: Intern Aware.
posted by spectrevsrector at 11:26 AM on May 16, 2013


If I was a Brit living under a Tory government I would never stop wanting to punch people in the face.

I'm an American so I don't really have to traffic in hypotheticals on this one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:38 AM on May 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


spectrevsrector: There are plenty of longer term unpaid internships around in the UK. There's a campaign group on this issue: Intern Aware.

Yeah, the creeping/mushrooming intern culture is definitely a huge problem; I was just pointing out that the standard work experience thing of being punted out to a law firm/charity/newspaper/mechanic's, aged 15, for a week or a fortnight – which has been a part of schooling here for decades; my dad is 65 and he did work experience in a funeral home – is a different issue.

Of course, the problem with this particular story isn't that 15 year olds are being exploited as free labour, or what have you; it's that only 15 year olds who have parents that can afford to drop a few grand in a charity auction are getting the opportunity of work experience in allegedly prestigious fields. And as pointed out in Mr.Know-it-some's link here, for all Westminster School's bragging about social inclusion – they even offer scholarships to kids from poor backgrounds! – scholarship pupils at Westminster aren't going to have parents happy, or even able, to frivolously waste the equivalent of what might be six months of their whole income on getting their kid to spend two weeks licking envelopes for a QC.
posted by Len at 11:39 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The private high school nearest my house charges $25,000 a year. Through connections, the science class is sending an experiment into space this year (extra capacity on a private launch vehicle). Something aerospace engineering grad students maybe get to do if they are very lucky. Those kids will have a ticket into the top school of their choice. Meanwhile, down the street, the public high school has bake sales for their science program that maybe net $500.
posted by miyabo at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had a discussion with a relative, who is very well off, and "conservative" by every definition of the word (except where Conservatives are traditionally hypocrites... that's where he, like the rest, defy the definition). He had done something similar. This relative, my uncle, owns an advertising agency. His son graduated from college a couple years ago, and my uncle was able to make an arrangement to get him an internship at a major market television station. He worked with one of the VPs extensively, and I don't know if there was a quid pro quo, it was more than likely just a favor amongst Oak Hill members. My uncle covered my cousin's rent, gas, food, gave him an allowance, etc. When we were at a golf tournament, I politely mentioned this in a conversation regarding the "liberal" media (as he sees it), by pointing out that it appears people like him, doing what he did for his son, are attempting to slowly buy the media.

So, for what it's worth, here's his rebuttal (paraphrased, somewhat):
It isn't an attempt to buy or influence the media. I'm just trying to help my son get a job. If other people can't afford to do the unpaid internship thing, they should do something else. The media industry uses unpaid internships extensively, and everybody knows that. That's not to say [your cousin] shares my views, or will be doing his part to get that out there. If there's a concern about unpaid internships and what they're doing to the media, take it up with the media. Don't watch their shows if you don't like the fact they're not paying people. Just so you know, there isn't a single Hollywood production or network show that pays everyone on the set. Nothing's guaranteed to be fair.

Now, I must point out I don't agree with this. I had to work a pretty crappy, low paying, local business based job when I got out of college because I had loans to pay back. I knew there was very little upward mobility, and eventually I wanted to get somewhere else. But, things being as they were, the equipment was very obselete, so when I applied for other jobs after having this experience under my belt, I didn't have anyone who would even call me back. I know if I was in a position to take an unpaid internship in a bigger market, I would have probably had a fighting chance. Not to say the odds were insurmountable, but they sure as hell were in favor of people like my cousin.

Eventually, my cousin was fired for taking money from someone. I don't know the specifics, as my family won't mention it any more than to say why he moved back into the state. Unfortunately, I don't have the solace to see this as retribution. My cousin really isn't a bad kid, he was just raised with a certain mindset, and considering how he got his job, college education, and everything else in life, he probably was under the impression that greasing someone's palms was just how the world worked.

If there's anything to take away from my uncle's opinion, it's that we do have some of this information at our fingertips. In a capitalist society, your wallet is your vote. In the media, your viewership is your vote. If you're aware of a company that offers these unpaid internships, or generally shady employment practices, make every effort to not end up in the ratings books, and voice your opinions to others who share your convictions.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and to respond to the Westminster School's statement:

Let's say the US Olympic Committe sold qualifying positions in each event to the highest bidder, so they would have the funds to give the less fortunate an opportunity to train for the Games.

Seems like it would negate their efforts, wouldn't it?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:49 AM on May 16, 2013


Let's say the US Olympic Committe sold qualifying positions in each event to the highest bidder

The host country has guaranteed spots in many events. This literally already happens.
posted by GuyZero at 11:54 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wasn't familiar with Intern Aware in the UK, thanks! Here in the states, one of the working groups under the larger umbrella of OWS Arts & Labor (which I'm a member of) addresses the issue of unpaid internships. The initial focus of Intern Labor Rights was specific to the creative/media industry, but the group has since expanded its reach to include all sorts of industries.
posted by stagewhisper at 11:55 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


New Statesman itself had an internship auctioned off at some Olympics fundraiser. Still won't recognise the NUJ either, as I recall. Scab rag.
posted by Abiezer at 12:02 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hold on.

These are 1-2 week work experience placements. Almost every state or private school offers them and has done for generations. I did a week with a composer and a week in an immunofluoresence lab at my (state comprehensive) school. The fact they're being called internships is worrying because it implies the widespread acceptance amongst 16yo kids that working for free is a common thing to do. But these really, really don't have the personal contacts - future job network attached. Kids are 16, they've got to go through university first, and noone has a 5 year memory of their work experience placement student.

In this case, I genuinely believe this condenses down to the observation that there are rich people.
posted by cromagnon at 12:16 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


We did these at my high school here in the states, called them Winterims. As in it was an interim position that we spent a week doing during the winter of our senior year.

I ended up scratching tapes for a fortune 500 company... if that tells you how long they've been around.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2013


I'm pretty sure these are a very common auction item for high school students at schools in the US. It's really more of a "job shadow" than an actual internship where you learn things. Incredibly useful as a way of getting exposure to different office environments, plus the cool factor of being at Disney or Big Law or whatever, but not really actual experience. I'd be much more upset if it were for a longer stint or gap year internship-- unless there's some aspect to this that I'm missing? Are big auction items just not as common in the UK?
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:32 PM on May 16, 2013


The host country has guaranteed spots in many events. This literally already happens.

You mean the country or the athlete as the highest bidder? What I was referring to is a rich Congressman buying his kid a slot on the relay team, and the USOC using that to pay for an inner city jock to train for a race he'll never run if he can't pony up the cash.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:36 PM on May 16, 2013


If there's anything to take away from my uncle's opinion, it's that we do have some of this information at our fingertips. In a capitalist society, your wallet is your vote. In the media, your viewership is your vote. If you're aware of a company that offers these unpaid internships, or generally shady employment practices, make every effort to not end up in the ratings books, and voice your opinions to others who share your convictions.

There's something really disabling about this, though; your uncle is arguing that the only valid forms of social action comes through consumption choices. Or, screw it, it's not disabling, it's anti-democratic. We have two ways (among others) of making decisions. One is the market-consumerist way, where each dollar a person holds is a vote. Another is the democratic-egalitarian way, where each person in and of themselves holds one non-transferable vote.

If your wallet is your vote, then absolutely no one here has anything that can meaningfully be called a vote. Maybe the 1%ers in the audience have tiny fractional vote-lets, but even they can't compete with the 0.1%ers who have the real fat wallets, and who can use them to vote meaningfully.

Your uncle will always, always win market-consumerist decision making processes, because folks like him have all the fucking money. We've got an outside shot of changing things the democratic way — so long as we don't fuck up and keep acting like your uncle's right in treating the market form as the only valid way to make decisions.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:38 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Let's try to set the standards of our educational institutions somewhat higher than those of the IOC.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:40 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a little confused over the trouble here. Are internship programs meant to be democratic in the U.K.? There's no such expectation in the U.S.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:00 PM on May 16, 2013


I think it's that despite the ample history to the contrary, there remains a healthy number of people who would prefer to think of their society as at least somewhat fair and so get annoyed at instances that show it clearly isn't.
posted by Abiezer at 1:17 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's that so much, Abiezer - no one in this country is unaware of the Lords and Queens etc up top - but on this side of the pond we usually prefer our elitism to be a little more pervasive and subtle. Power here isn't democratic to money, and this time it isn't even leavened with a little bit of haughty tradition.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:21 PM on May 16, 2013


Well, we all know an unequal society works in this kind of way, but sometimes we can use the official rhetoric of 'equality of opportunity' and a classless society to rein in some of the more obvious excesses.
posted by spectrevsrector at 1:22 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, think spectrevsrector has put it better. Don't think anyone has any illusions but the democratic and egalitarian attitudes are precious and it's encouraging that they still persist despite it all.
posted by Abiezer at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2013


> Just so you know, there isn't a single Hollywood production or network show that pays everyone on the set. Nothing's guaranteed to be fair.

What a bad attitude. "Yes, it's unfair. Yes, incredibly rich organizations break the law and no one cares. So shut up."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:03 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eventually, my cousin was fired for taking money from someone. I don't know the specifics, as my family won't mention it any more than to say why he moved back into the state. Unfortunately, I don't have the solace to see this as retribution. My cousin really isn't a bad kid, he was just raised with a certain mindset, and considering how he got his job, college education, and everything else in life, he probably was under the impression that greasing someone's palms was just how the world worked.
Sometimes I think this is one of the big lessons that we miss. It is bad that wealthy or well-connected folks are getting their children openings that others can't have, but it's even worse that youths are taught this is the way the world should work. We're not just ending up with wasted talent among the poor and incompetence among the wealthy, but with a slowly shrinking awareness among some that to deserve a thing is more than just to have it.
posted by Jehan at 2:49 PM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


A few words on what a mini-pupillage is, and why selling one is causing such a stink.

In England and Wales, lawyers have traditionally been divided into solicitors and barristers.* Solicitors are the client-facing lawyers; barristers undertook trial advocacy and provided specialist advice. The boundaries have blurred a lot these days, but they are still separate career streams with distinct postgraduate training.

Being a barrister is not as spectacularly lucrative as many people assume**. That's particularly true for criminal law. But there are areas, such as commercial litigation, where a barrister in one of the top London chambers can do very well indeed. But that means getting a place as a tenant in one of those chambers, and that usually means doing pupillage there - pupillage being the one-year apprenticeship that is the final stage in a barristers' training.

Getting a pupillage is incredibly competitive. The number available is determined simply by the number on offer from barristers' chambers and parts of the employed bar such as the Government Legal Service. Currently there are around 400-500 pupillages per year. Competing for these are the 1500-2000 annual graduates from the Bar Professional Training Course. In fact, since the BPTC qualification is valid for 5 years, there are actually many more applicants each year than this - something like 3,000 or so. I have it on good authority that every pupillage place offered attracts over 100 applications.

So how do applicants stand out? Other than excellent marks and lots of evidence of legal volunteering and other extra-curricular activities, a good candidate often shows evidence of having gained experience of life at the bar. This is usually done via a mini-pupillage, a short placement of anything from two days to a week or so at a chambers, spent shadowing one or more barristers as they go to court or meet clients. An applicant for pupillage who hasn't done at least 2 or 3 mini-pupillages will probably not even be looked at; he or she will just come across as not having properly explored his or her intended career. So, access to mini-pupillages is essential for aspiring barristers.

Most barristers' chambers offer mini-pupillages on the basis that if you write to ask for one, look like a reasonably credible candidate for the Bar, and there is space available, then you will be offered one. They aren't paid, but nor are you expected to pay for them (and you may well get incidental expenses). But here, we see a mini-pupillage being sold.

Now, we already have a problem of a lack of social mobility into the English Bar. It's long been a perception that wealthy Oxbridge types are the main recruiting ground. For much of the 1970s and 1980s university education was effectively free, with state grants for living expenses, and that brought a more diverse range of people into the law. But then grants were replaced by loans, and now tuition fees have been introduced. University is becoming harder and harder to access unless you are from a well-off family.

And this is why there has been such concern about auctioning a mini-pupillage. It is already hard enough to become a barrister if you are not from a privileged background. Now, one of the most essential prerequisites to securing pupillage - being able to show that you have done a number of mini-pupillages - may become yet another thing an aspiring barrister has to pay for. Even more worrying to someone in this position, he or she may risk being outbid by well-off parents desperate to get a leg up on the legal profession ladder for their offspring. At a time when there are fears that the English Bar's journey towards greater diversity risks stalling or being reversed, news of the first signs of a market in mini-pupillages was very worrying indeed.


* There are also Legal Executives, who (to oversimplify) are less qualified than graduate lawyers but are more than paralegals.
** I know - I am one.
posted by Major Clanger at 3:29 PM on May 16, 2013 [17 favorites]


Bill Clinton wasn't so bad!

Yeah, no - he really was.

Imagine for a moment if it had been Bush the Younger.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:27 PM on May 16, 2013


It's worth pointing out, I think, that it's significant that the school has need-blind admissions. Many, if not most, of the elite private secondary schools in the US do not do that. There are literally different admissions criteria depending on how much you can pay, by virtue of how they hand out scholarships.

Westminster's choice of fundraisers may or may not be ideal, but the American method of raising funds by simply auctioning off admission slots to elite prep schools (and then using that as one's entre to elite colleges and then to elite jobs) doesn't even bother trying.

So there's that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:47 PM on May 16, 2013


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