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A moderate cost intervention, with very limited evidence, which suggests it may have a positive impact.

An intern is someone who is involved in part-time or full-time work experience that is related to their career goal or degree subject.

An ‘internship’ can be defined as a ‘thick’ sandwich placement (typically a year-long work placement undertaken between the second and final year of a degree programme) or a ‘thin’ sandwich placement (one or several shorter periods of work experience interspersed with periods of study throughout the degree programme).

Internships are classified according to whether they are a mandatory or optional element of a degree programme and whether or not they are credit bearing. Where there are tuition fees, as in England, ‘thick’ sandwich placement students pay a (reduced) fee during their year in industry, particularly if they receive academic credit for successfully completing it. Placements can be paid or unpaid, however, those undertaking ‘thick’ sandwich placements are typically remunerated for their work.


The Robertson Trust: Journey to Success Programme

The Robertson Trust provides a range of bursaries and scholarships to 16 to 25 year olds undertaking undergraduate level study at Scottish Universities. Awards are targeted at students from low socio-economic groups, carers, care experienced students, those living in rural areas, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, disabled students, refugees and asylum seekers and students who are estranged from their families. Financial support is awarded based on need, merit and/or commitment to study. A key feature of The Trust’s bursary and scholarship schemes, which sets them apart from many others, is an accompanying programme of self-development.

Journey to Success is a bursary and self-development programme that supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education, successfully complete their degree and obtain a good graduate job. It consists of a core financial award of £4,000 per annum (£2,800 if the student lives at home) along with a paid internship and a series of workshops that help develop professional and employability skills. Other opportunities to undertake funded self-development projects, charity placements and leadership programmes are also available to recipients.

The Journey to Success programme originated in 1992 and to date has supported over 1000 Scholars at a cost of approximately £1.5 million per annum. The programme is currently being expanded and will support over 650 students studying in universities across Scotland in 2018-19. Career pathways into blue chip companies have been established via the internship and leadership elements of the programme. Approximately 90% of Scholars achieve a 2:1 or a 1st and obtain graduate jobs or enter further study.

Find out more about scholarships at The Robertson Trust here:

See what Scholars think about the Journey to Success programme here:

Target Audiences

The papers reviewed did not target internships specifically at widening access groups. However, other broader programmes and packages of support targeted at widening access students, such as The Robertson Trust’s ‘Journey to Success’, include an internship element.

Internships are typically available to students on particular degree programmes and/or studying particular subjects. The empirical studies reviewed focused on undergraduates and graduates from a range of degree programmes including: Biology, Business Studies, Computing, Design, History and Psychology.


  • Improved attainment, specifically degree classification
  • Student success in terms of employment / graduate employment; unemployment rate; salary level, career progression

How effective is it?

Most of the evidence reviewed suggests the intervention has a positive impact on outcomes, although some studies suggest no or negative impacts for certain designs of internship. 

The literature reviewed suggests that students who undertake an internship have an advantage over those who do not in the labour market in the short-term. On graduation, those with work experience tend to secure a job more quickly, secure a graduate level job, achieve higher salaries and report greater levels of job satisfaction when compared with those without work experience. The extent of the advantage may be dependent on subject of study. Built Environment, Business, Engineering and Social Science graduates benefit the most from undertaking a sandwich course, whilst Science and Language sandwich graduates do not gain a significant advantage. There is no evidence that these benefits are sustained into the long-term.

There is evidence of a positive correlation between work experience and final degree attainment.

The unemployment rate amongst those with work experience tends to be lower than for those who graduate without work experience.

There is evidence of a correlation between work experience and final degree attainment. One study suggests that non-field related and mandatory work experience can have no or a negative impact on labour market integration, while field-related and voluntary work experience has a positive impact. This suggests that internships are more likely to have a positive effect on labour market outcomes when they relate to a student’s degree subject / chosen career area and are undertaken voluntarily, that is as an optional rather than a compulsory element of their undergraduate degree programme.

What are the costs?

No information is provided on the cost of this intervention in the studies reviewed.

However information contained in studies suggests that this is a moderate cost activity. The main cost incurred is the staff time associated with the set up and administration of internships and academic supervision for students while on placement. Direct costs, such as travel and subsistence, may be incurred on credit bearing internships if academic staff are required to visit students while on placement to observe and/or assess them in the workplace.

How good is the current evidence?

The strength of evidence on the impact of this intervention is very limited.

Eight individual studies at Level 2 and two literature reviews. None of the studies reviewed meet the criteria for Level 3.

How relevant is the evidence?

Five out of the eight studies reviewed focus on the UK and are therefore relevant to the Scottish context. One of the systematic reviews and three of the individual studies have a European focus; the other systematic review has a North American focus. Overall, the evidence should be considered as broadly relevant to the Scottish context.

Things to consider

Students are most likely to benefit from an internship when they are motivated to engage in work experience and the placement is relevant to their degree subject and/or career aspirations.

The quality of the internship is paramount. Students benefit most when they are engaged in meaningful activities during their placement and are well supported by a placement supervisor.

Barriers to participation in internships for students from lower socio-economic groups:

– The location of the placement relative to the student’s home and the associated logistics and cost of travelling (particularly if the student does not have access to a car) can inhibit participation and/or limit the range of internship opportunities available to some students.

– The timing of the internship is also an important consideration as there is an opportunity cost of undertaking an internship outside term-time, particularly if the placement is unpaid, for those students who need to work during non-term time to fund their studies.

– Internships can add to the length of a degree programme (e.g. programmes that include a ‘thick’ sandwich placement are typically delivered over four/five years compared with a standard three/four year programme). Students are likely to incur additional costs as a result (e.g. accommodation and/or living expenses) which could act as a deterrent for those from low income households, particularly if the internship is unpaid.


Further Research Recommended

Studies at Level 3 are required to establish whether improved attainment and employability outcomes can be attributed to internships.

Research to establish whether participation in an internship helps to close the gap in attainment and outcomes between the most and least advantaged students.

Research to understand the impact of internships on widening access students and the contribution internships make to wider objectives, such as social mobility and access to the professions for under-represented groups.

Further Information

For a recent review of literature on the impact of internships see Velez and Giner’s (2015) Effects of Business Internships on Students, Employers and Higher Education Institutions.

For insights into designing and delivering an internship programme see Tovey’s (2009) Building connections between University and Industry: Implementing an Internship Programme at a Regional University.

D’Abate et al.’s (2009) Making the most of an internship: An Empirical Study of Intership Satisfaction provides an evaluation of the factors associated with student satisfaction.


Level 2

Binder, J. F., Baguley, T., Crook, C. and Miller, F. (2015). ‘The academic value of internships: Benefits across disciplines and student backgrounds.’ Contemporary Educational Psychology Vol.41, pp.73-82.

Bowes, L. and Harvey, L. (1999). The Impact of Sandwich Education on the Activities of Graduates Six Months Post-Graduation. Birmingham: Centre for Research into Quality.

Mason, G., Williams, G. and Cranmer, S. (2009). ‘Employability skills initiatives in higher education: What effects do they have on graduate labour market outcomes?’ Education Economics Vol. 17(1), pp. 1-30.

Narayanan, V. K., Olk, P. M. and Fukami, C. V. (2010). ‘Determinants of internship effectiveness: an exploratory model.’ Academy of Management Learning & Education Vol. 9 (1), pp. 61–80.

Reddy, P. and Moores, E. (2006). ‘Measuring the benefits of a psychology placement year.’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol.31(5), pp.551-567.

Silva, P., Lopes, B., Costa, M., Seabra, D., Melo, A. I., Brito, E. and Paiva-Dias, G. (2016). ‘Stairway to employment? Internships in higher education’. Higher Education Vol 72 (6), pp. 703–721.

Taylor, A. R. and Hooley, T. (2014). ‘Evaluating the impact of career management skills module and internship programme within a university business school.’ British Journal of Guidance & Counselling Vol. 42(5)  pp. 487-499.

Weiss, F., Klein, M. and Grauenhorst, M. (2014). ‘The effects of work experience during higher education on labour market entry: learning by doing or an entry ticket?’ Work, Employment and Society Vol. 28(5), pp.788–807.


Systematic reviews (ratings unclear)

Knouse, S. B. and Fontenot, G. (2008). ‘Benefits of the business college internship: A research review.’ Journal of Employment Counselling Vol. 45, pp. 61-66.

Sanahuja Vélez, G. and Ribes Giner, G. (2015) ‘Effects of business internships on students, employers, and higher education institutions: a systematic review.’ Journal of Employment Counseling Vol. 52(3), pp. 21-130.