Here is a guide to internships and work placements in the UK.
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During undergraduate studies, most courses will provide students with the option to incorporate a placement year either working in a foreign company or studying at a partner University. Most employers pay their placement students for the time they work, and the rate varies between industries and areas. The academic courses that offer placements can be both at undergraduate (Bachelor) and postgraduate (Masters) levels, but expectations will vary between universities and even amongst programmes within the same University.
Depending on where and what you study, placements may be compulsory. Even though some students choose to go abroad for an internship, the majority of students do their placement within the UK.
To get a placement in the UK, you need to apply with a CV and application letter, often through a website or by email. Most UK universities have a good network of companies where they place students and hold recruitment events on campus. Universities are involved in the entire process, from approving the suitability of the placement, checking the conditions of the working environment, ensuring insurances and procedures are in place to protect to the student, to matching student candidates with placement opportunities and ensuring the student is adequately prepared.
The placement process is managed by coordinators working within the student placements office who are typically the first point of contact for both students and employers. As student placements are in high demand, students are often expected to seek out their own placement opportunity. Therefore, placement coordinators are also able to assist with the research and application process for self-determined placements.
Due to the length of the application and approval process, placement applications have to be submitted well in advance, following the respective University’s application procedure. Foreign students in particular have to ensure that sufficient time is allowed for the application process and pay attention to any restrictions or special requirements that may affect taking a paid work placement in the UK. Numerous universities therefore offer volunteering opportunities to international students who are ineligible for paid placements in order that they can still benefit from work experience. In general, you are unlikely to receive feedback on your application; if you have not heard anything after a stipulated time, you can assume that you have not been shortlisted for interview. If you are invited to an interview or an assessment session you are likely to receive feedback on your performance and be told the reasons why you have or have not been selected.
Tips and Regulations for students who want to do an internship in the UK can be found on the following sites:
- European Student Placement and Internship Organisation: http://www.placement-uk.com [en]
- International Graduate Recruitment: www.intergrad.co.uk [en]
- Work experience and internships: http://www.prospects.ac.uk/work_experience.htm [en]
- Salford Business School placements example for employer: http://www.salford.ac.uk/business-school/business-services/student-placements [en]
Job exchanges for student internships in the UK can be found here:
- http://www.europe-internship.com/find-intern-placement-united-kingdom/ [en]
- http://www.goabroad.com/intern-abroad/search/england/internships-abroad-1 [en]
Internship and placement advice
There are many practical issues relating to international placements that need to be taken care of either by the trainee or the host company and preparations often begin six months or more in advance of the start date to allow time for all the necessary formalities and arrangements to be completed.
Social Security and European Health insurance card
It is a good idea to find out before your arrival whether you will require health and personal possessions insurance. If you are coming from an EU/EEA country, you might not need to have accident and health insurance, but being insured is still highly recommended. As a foreign student, relevant insurances to consider are health, accident and travel insurances.
National Insurance number
In order to work legitimately within the UK, you will have to register with the UK Government for taxation purposes and will be issued with a National Insurance number. It is very important for you to have this in place before you start your work placement. In order to get your National Insurance number you have to have the right to study or work in the UK.
- Get a National Insurance number: https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number
The UK is generally a very safe place with a low crime rate. However, internationally motivated terrorism attacks do occur and tend to happen in major cities. Other crimes include pickpocketing and theft from unattended vehicles again especially in larger cities and tourist areas. It is therefore important to be careful of your purse, mobile telephone or backpack in crowded public places.
There is one standardized emergency number across the UK. You can dial 999 from any telephone, free of charge, 24 hours a day to reach the police, ambulance or fire emergency services. All emergency services have a strong local presence and can be expected to reach the scene within a few minutes to render assistance.
- UK Peace Index highlights rate of fall in violent crime: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22275280
- International terrorism is a nationwide problem: https://www.mi5.gov.uk/home/the-threats/terrorism/international-terrorism/international-terrorism-and-the-uk/terrorist-plots-in-the-uk.html
Do I need visa?
Depending on the country you are coming from, you might need to get a Visa before you can work in the UK. Immigration is a major political issue in the UK and this means that there are frequent adjustments to visa requirements. Therefore, it is always best to confirm your status with the UK Border Agency or equivalent organisation should this be re-named in due course: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/working/
Internship and Placement salary
As in other countries, internships in the UK can be paid or unpaid and there is no universal wage you can expect. It is reasonable for placements to be compensated at a wage that is approximately half of the starting salary for the job that is being apprenticed. In the UK, employees are entitled to a minimum wage, which guarantees a certain standard of living. However, interns are not necessarily recognised as employees and students who are required to do an internship for less than 1 year as part of their studies are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage. This is an important consideration for both the trainee and the host company, especially for placements in London, where the costs of living can vastly exceed a student’s resources
Internship and Placement accommodation
Doing a placement in the UK often means finding your own accommodation, although there are exceptions. In certain industries, such as the hospitality industry, accommodation and food may be provided to staff, and this can help to reduce expenses. Otherwise, renting is common in the UK and furnished rooms are readily available for short-term lets. Rent is normally paid on a monthly basis and a deposit (approximately three months rent in advance) has to be paid prior to the handover of keys. Again, London is extremely expensive, with high rents in the central region or long and expensive commutes from the outlying suburbs and conurbations.