Imperial College London pulls auction of unpaid internship following student opposition

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The internship on Westminster School’s website before it was removed

Imperial College London has pulled an unpaid internship which was up for auction at one of the country’s most expensive private schools. 

Westminster School, which charges in excess of £7,000 per term, is running an online auction for internships and were offering a one week unpaid position at Imperial College to the highest bidder.

The auction is taking place to help fund the school’s “newly acquired Sports Centre as well as the ever-expanding bursary programme.”

It was advertised to take place inside the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the university which is ranked 8th in the world. The institute brings scientists, medics and engineers together to work on medical diagnosis and treatments.

The internship isn’t the only unpaid opportunity included in the lots on the website – but is the only one offered by a university.

Other internships include one week at retail expert Mary Portas’s communications agency. The auction also includes the opportunity to win the services of a bagpipe player and an “assorted archive items dating from the 1930s.”

The auction came after several top universities, including Nottingham, Essex, Sussex and York, agreed not to allow unpaid internships to be advertised on their websites.

However, once the Students’ Union sabbatical officers discovered their university was allowing the internship to be auction they issued a statement condemning it and saying that education should be based on merit.

They said:

“For a publicly-funded body to restrict this transformational opportunity only to the wealthy is a betrayal of our academic principles and the work to widen access to which so many staff and students have given their time.

“We will ensure that this auction is withdrawn entirely and that College take steps to prevent similar incidents happening again. We have contacted senior management and College communications staff and discussions are underway.”

Following their protests and discussions with the university the position was removed from the Westminster School auction page.

The university has since stated that an individual member of staff agreed the internship with Westminster School and that a second internship had also been planned:

“One placement was to be auctioned, with the proceeds to go towards supporting Westminster School’s bursary programme and capital building projects. The other place was to be reserved for a pupil from one of Westminster’s state school partners.”

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