As a Commerce student, the prospect of going on a year-long paid internship during my studies was one of the reasons I was drawn to doing this course in UCD. Adding an extra year to my college years, gaining invaluable experience in an industry-leading company, strengthening my CV and making money whilst doing so seemed too good to be true. Alas, it was; in 1st year, having read the small print, I learned that students have to pay UCD their student fees during the internship period.
Firstly, let’s examine the situation in question. In the Bachelor of Commerce course, the internship is advertised and promoted to students as an opportunity that everyone should avail of. Certainly, it has merit for those who choose to do it. Students can apply to ‘the Big Four’, Google, Amazon and other highly reputable companies. However, the applications are limited to five per person. If successful, you then essentially take a gap-year to work for nine months in one of these companies. In UCD’s eyes, the internship counts as one module, worth 60 credits. Each month, students on the internship are required to submit a progress report to UCD, and at the end of the period must also submit a long, detailed review of their experience. In exchange for this, students pay their full student fees for the year.
I personally find this unfair for multiple reasons. Firstly, paying full fees (which can reach up to €5,834 for EU students and €17,000 for non-EU students) in return for a wage slightly above the legal minimum amount seems a tad excessive. Moreover, students on the internship pay the same amount as other Commerce students, who receive 12 modules, lectures, tutorials, notes, Blackboard and Brightspace services and extra resources such as help with maths or writing. I asked the Quinn School management staff this question and got several reasonings as to why this is the case.
The first point that was made is that the Quinn School source all the internship opportunities and manage the application and offer processes. I personally don’t see why students couldn’t do this themselves; we did it for our undergraduate course and will do it for our Masters or graduate jobs, so it’s something we can evidently do ourselves. If I had the choice between sourcing, applying for and accepting a job myself or paying UCD to do it, I know what I’d choose.
The next justifications for the fees were the activities organised by the Quinn School to prepare students for the internship. The Internship Fair allows students to meet potential employers. The Bootcamp, meanwhile, educates us on workplace etiquette. Other workshops are also held on interview techniques and how to construct your CV. These workshops were genuinely helpful and gave great advice that undoubtedly helps students become more employable. However, the first two events were less helpful; if I wanted to meet employers I could go to the much larger, free GradIreland fair in the RDS. If I wanted to learn about workplace etiquette, I’m pretty certain I could do so on the internet, or perhaps even by using some common sense.
During the internship, the Quinn School claims that they are in frequent contact with students, especially when giving feedback of the monthly ‘learning logs’. The availability of contacting a dedicated Internship Manager with queries or issues is certainly helpful and a great asset to have for students on placement. However, do they really need monthly feedback on their own analysis of their learning? And does it really warrant the full price of fees? I’m not so convinced. The ‘regular’ site visits to ensure students are ‘fully supported’ are also, from the many sources I have asked, not all that regular. In fact, in most companies, they seem to be non-existent. Even if they were, I again struggle with the value it brings to the internship as a whole and whether it justifies the price tag associated with the year.
Moving on to payment during the internship, an issue which is often overlooked. The pay is typically slightly above minimum wage. Now, as a student, this in itself is not something to be complaining about, quite the contrary. But, being a student and having an income poses an issue for many people; it could end up in students losing any grants they may have. This makes final year financially challenging for these students, as they then have a hard ultimatum ahead of them; work during their final year of studies or take out some form of a loan. Understandably, this is not an ideal situation for students to be in.
So what can be done to address all these issues within the internship programme in Quinn? Well, I see several available options. The first, most blatant one is to reduce the cost of the programme, which really shouldn’t qualify as a 60-credit module and thus be charged as one. Removing certain elements of the programme which serve little value would be an appropriate way of doing this. A certain price is expected to cover the necessary work that is clearly associated with organising the placement, but I believe offering fewer features in exchange for a lowered fee would benefit students more. Next, I think it would be interesting to examine the feasibility of offering non-paid options to students who may not want to lose their grants in the final year. Lastly, it’s important for students to bear in mind that an internship isn’t the only option available to them.
Securing a graduate programme after your studies require the exact same steps as the internship does, albeit this time you won’t have to pay any UCD fees or reflect on your learnings on a monthly basis. Alternatively, taking a gap year and securing your own form of employment could be an option. All that said, if these issues and fees don’t bother you, the internship is actually quite a great opportunity, just keep in mind that there are a few drawbacks to it.
By Alex Lohier – Business Editor