Unpaid Internships: A Class Analysis

By Aam Nawab | 21 Sep, 2022

As soon as the spring semester ends and the summer holidays start, final year and recently graduated students begin to look for internships in their respective fields. Although these internships are extremely important for the students looking to gain valuable hands-on experience in areas related to their academic degrees, these opportunities are scarce and come with additional cost to the student.

Just a decade or two back having a degree was sufficient enough to secure a job, however, as universities produce more and more graduates each passing year, the job market has become tough. In order to get a job, students are advised to have some sort of internship experience in their relevant fields. Even the Higher Education Commission (HEC) guidelines proclaim that “In order to graduate, every student shall have to complete an internship program, of at least 9-week duration, at any time after the completion of their fourth semester, generally during the summer. Universities will collaborate with employers to arrange the requisite number of internship slots.”

The problem is that majority of the organizations and institutions be it government or private i.e. think tanks, ministries, administrative departments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) private companies, or startups often offer un-paid internships to the students. This exploitation is normalized to the extent that even the ‘Prime Ministers Youth Programme’ (PMYP) launched in 2022 offered no compensation whatsoever for interns, despite the inflation touching an all-time high.

A good proportion of students come to study in the cities from far-flung remote areas. For them to intern during the summer break is extremely costly. They have to bear their living expense since universities ask them to vacate the university hostels and bear the cost of commuting as well as daily meals. These students come from humble backgrounds and for them, every additional cost adds up and comes at the expense of making compromises in other areas of their lives.

Usually paid internship opportunities are offered by prominent organizations which can contribute significantly to your resume, but the supply of labor is inversely proportionate to the demand. This means that the competition is so high that people with privilege will also be eyeing these opportunities even though they can afford to do an unpaid internship.

These un-paid internships profess a classist system because if you can’t afford the cost that comes with it you are at a loss, but those who are privileged enough can enjoy the experience and benefit from it.

Taking a look at the numbers, Pakistan has a youth population which comprises of more than 60 percent of the total population. According to the data released by the Election Commission of Pakistan the ratio of voters below the age of 35 amounts to a staggering 45.84 percent. Out of the 121 million registered voters 55.57 million voters belong to the age bracket of 18-35 years and as many as 23.58 million or 19.46 percent individuals are aged between 18 and 25 years.

Source: ECP

Despite such an enormous young population we hardly see any youth-centric policies or a concentrated effort to provide better facilities and opportunities to the youth of this country, rather we only find the emphasis on youth empowerment in political speeches, especially as the election season approaches.

It is often stated and accentuated that the youth of any country is its future, if the leaders of today invest in the youth of this nation, those who benefit from it will surely bring a good name to the country by becoming leaders of tomorrow. The government and the private sector must offer better opportunities to them than what are currently being offered, especially to those who are disadvantaged because of their class.




The writer is a youth activist and has studied International Relations. He tweets at @mustafa_wynne.

Cover image via dailytrojan.com

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