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Architecture students call for an end to unpaid internships

Students have called for the RIBA to do more to put an end to unpaid internships

At the Architecture Students Network (ASN) Forum on Friday night (15 February) students hit out at the number of unpaid internships still being advertised - despite moves by the RIBA to put an end to the employment practice.

The RIBA made a stand on unpaid work in 2011. Then RIBA president Ruth Reed announced that member practices had to pay interns at least the minimum wage or risk losing their chartered status.

But at the event in The Building Centre, students stood up and complained that these unpaid internships were still happening, inspite of RIBA promises.

Members of the audience blamed the ‘still widespread’ practice for widening the gap between rich and poor architecture students with only those from a more well off background being able to take up positions and complete their required professional experience.

Students alone cannot boycott unpaid work

Sheffield University graduate, Sita Jobanputra led the discussion saying: ‘Students alone cannot boycott unpaid work – they have to get on in the profession. They need support from the RIBA to raise awareness of practices who are still flouting the rules.’

Alex Maxwell, a fellow Sheffield University student and a member of the ASN called for students to join together to tackle the issue: ‘Students don’t value the amount of weight which they have.

‘If students came together as a collective great things could happen.’

Oliver Richards, founder of ORMS and vice-president for education at the RIBA promised to raise the issue at the RIBA and urged students to contact them with names of chartered practices still offering unpaid work.

Employing unpaid interns risks devaluing our profession

Speaking after the event RIBA president Angela Brady said: ‘How can we as a profession champion our work as high value and worth investment when we hear reports of unpaid interns?  While it is legal for employers not to pay students for up to three months, it is certainly not good practice and risks devaluing our profession.

‘I am proud that the RIBA introduced its own policy three years ago that made it compulsory for students taking their PEDR at an RIBA Chartered Practice to be paid. The rest of the profession should feel honour bound to follow this example and pay architectural students for their hard work. I urge any student working unpaid towards their PEDR, within an RIBA Chartered Practice, to contact the RIBA with their concerns.’

Further comment from the RIBA:

‘It is disappointing and worrying to hear of reports of architectural students taking unpaid internships in architecture. The RIBA deplores any architects treating students this way; it is a requirement for all RIBA Chartered Practices to pay interns who are working towards their Professional Education and Development Record (PEDR). 

‘Before any architectural practice is accepted as an RIBA Chartered Practice it is required to sign a declaration stating that they will ensure that at least statutory minimum wage is paid to all architectural students employed within the practice, where the work undertaken is eligible to count towards the students PEDR. Over time, and as the economy improves the RIBA wishes to see the statutory amount paid to students rise above the national minimum wage. All RIBA Chartered Practices are required to sign this declaration each year they remain part of the scheme.

To verify this policy, the RIBA undertakes a random annual audit of 5 per cent of its 3,200 UK Chartered Practices. In addition to the declaration and audit, if the RIBA has reason to suspect a Chartered Practice is not fulfilling the criteria they have signed up to, then it is committed to fully investigate any claims of a breach. Chartered Practice suspension is automatically evoked, pending further investigation, once a complaint is received.  

Readers' comments (3)

  • As a student for me there is no simple solution. Students need experience and often practices can't pay. I worry that forcing practices to pay will mean they will reduce the number of students they have. I guess if there was a way to separate 'PEDR experience' with 'general experience' then 'PEDR experience' could be payed and 'general experience' not. The student could work for free before being able to meet the 'standard' of a PEDR paid placement. Still not ideal but maybe better than the current situation.

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  • John Kellett

    The only reason practices can't pay is the desire to udercut their competitors by having more work carried out by unpaid students.
    My practice is under pressure from all directions to take on unpaid 'interns' under all sorts of 'official' apprenticeship type schemes. Should I bow to 'business' advice or stick to the moral high ground and hope my business can grow without 'cheating'?
    If students are doing useful fee-earning work the minimum pay legislation should apply, at the very least. An architecture graduate is after all worth a lot more than a 16 year old youth with no GCSEs or a 'media studies' graduate.
    But until the law is clarified and/or challenged loopholes will, unfortunately, be exploited by those without scruples.

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  • Mushtaq Saleri

    As a practitioner and a university tutor I see both angles to the role of “unpaid internships”. My personal view (and that of my practice) is that if there’s work to be done there should be enough fee income to pay a salary…even if it’s not much beyond a basic wage. We all know of practices (large and small) that are flouting employment laws and we all receive daily applications from ever-desperate graduates looking to offer their time for nothing. If we continue the downward spiral of suicidal fees somehow justifying exploitation, the profession will never recover to the levels where we can properly employ graduates in sufficient numbers.

    To the unemployed graduates: remember that an architecture degree gives you a great springboard to go off in other directions (design / graphics / development / contracting / project management etc)…you can always come back in the future.

    To those of us practitioners who still have morals and believe that being a “professional” extends beyond having a plaque on the wall: we need to stand firm on fees and proper employment. Hopefully there’ll be enough of us left to make a difference.

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