Unpaid Internships – it should already be illegal?

Many students try to get a hold on working life through internships, but should they have to pay for it? No, if the EU bans unpaid internships for good. EU elections are held on 9 June  – use your voice!

For many students internships are a mandatory part of their degree. It is also an irreplaceable way to learn working life skills that make moving from being a student to a full time worker smoother. Some students are already being paid for their internships depending on their field of study. For some, the paid internship is made possible by the aid paid to employers by the university. Without pay, especially those students that work to support themselves are at a real disadvantage. Internships are all mainly full-time jobs and that makes going to a supporting part-time job nearly impossible. Students are given a choice: will you take out loans to finance the internship, or will you pass on the internship entirely. If the internship is mandatory you don’t even have the option to choose.

Should students really have to pay to work?

The European youth forum published a study in 2023 that says that unpaid internships can cost over a 1000€ a month for youngsters. Should students really have to pay to work? Unpaid internships are most common in low paying fields which discriminate against students even before they get into the working life.

Students aren’t the only people that suffer from unpaid internships. Especially foreign workers accept unpaid internships with the assumption that it will lead to a job offer. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, and the employer “hires” a new intern. Unpaid internships are legal only if the internship is organized through an official academy or TE services and it’s simultaneously educational. Banning unpaid internships entirely would leave no room for interpretation of what counts as educational work. 


Students aren’t leaving for internships on their freshman week. They have already studied a large amount of information and skills needed in workplaces. The fact that they are still learning other skills doesn’t mean that the work that they do is meritless and they shouldn’t be compensated fairly. Banning unpaid internships has been discussed in the EU last year already and it is one of the most important points in the Higher education students’ European election programme made by SYL. Banning unpaid internships across the union would make interning equal to everyone in Finland and abroad. The chance to get a paid internship anywhere inside the EU would lower the threshold of going abroad and get some international experience.

Many students aren’t aware that the decisions made at the EU level can also better the lives of students.

Banning unpaid internships has not been an issue in the political discussion in Finland and the spending limits session made sure that students’ financial discipline keeps on going. However, decisions made in the EU must be regarded here too. Many students aren’t aware that the decisions made at the EU level can also better the lives of students. The European commission has recommended giving up unpaid internships but that is not enough – now is the time to demand better and vote!

More information about EU elections can be found on the election page by the European Parliament in English.


The blog is written by the vice chair of OYY’s Board, Eveliina Tiusanen, who is responsible for international affairs

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