In response to decreasing levels of work experience and an apparent increase in unpaid internships, the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) has worked with other organisations to develop a guide outlining minimum expectations of work experience and an outline of good practice.

Past NCUB research has established the importance of quality work experience in giving university students the opportunity to gain transferable employability skills, bettering their chances of success in securing jobs on graduation. While for businesses, work experience provides a means for capturing and nurturing talent early on and for identifying students with work-ready attributes.

The drop-off in students taking work experience, though predictable, is disappointing to see. According to a survey of students from Prospects last week, only 19% of university students had undertaken work experience in the last 12 months. 45% of university students surveyed said they felt unprepared for entering employment. The lack of work experience was the most frequent reported barrier to securing a job.

The survey also found an increase in unpaid work experience that lasted for four weeks or more. 62% of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020/21 compared to 41% in the 2018 version of the survey.

In response to the pandemic and loss of work experience opportunities for students and graduates, NCUB joined a group of organisations and employers to work together to increase the amount of quality work experience opportunities. This group was convened by the Association of Graduate Career Advisory Services (AGCAS) and included Jisc, Universities UK, and Institute of Student as well as several others.

From these discussions, the group developed two standards that will work together to raise the standard of work experience opportunities and ensure the promotion of fair and valuable experience:

  1. The Work Experience Standard: the minimum requirements for a work experience opportunity that we expect to be met in order for an opportunity to be advertised to students.
  2. The Good Practice Guide: A supplementary overview of good practice that we would hope all employers who recruit students/graduates should aim to work towards, or exceed.

We hope that these tools will help employers looking to host work experience opportunities but unsure about what they need to do to ensure it’s high quality. This document should also aid higher education institutions in developing a consistent approach to their expectations of work experience.

We are seeking input from our business and university members to review the proposal to inform the development of the final cross-sector work experience standard. The consultation deadline is Friday 30th July.

If you have any questions regarding the consultation, please contact NCUB’s Policy Lead for Skills and Talent Chris Russell at