Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just a bit more on fee for placement...

I've noticed a fair amount of discussion in the media recently on what is being presented as a growing "trend": organizations and businesses that place students and recent graduates in internships for a fee.

Best I can figure, the Wall Street Journal started the ball rolling with "Buying Your Kid an Internship? It'll Cost You" (and then followed it up online on their blog, The Juggle). Gawker waxed indignant and then the ball was batted around the blogosphere and elsewhere for awhile.

Back in August, On Point Radio out of Boston picked it up with a show on "Paying to Work for Free" -- in large part revisiting the WSJ article and the main players cited. I'd earlier blogged on this topic when another National Public Radio show did a program on this "controversy" in March.

A couple things have jumped out at me in the interim.

As far as the media outlets are concerned, University of Dreams seems to be the poster child for this trend, which means they suffer the majority of bric-bats but also receive unparalleled exposure and publicity. I have a feeling they're suffering through this quite happily.

And I don't want to rehash the pros & cons of such arrangements, which are laid out pretty well by the players interviewed and detailed in the various shows and articles (and in an August New York Times article), as much as make a few observations.

I was first introduced to the University of Dreams as a provider of international internships. And London, Hong Kong, etc placements are seemingly always mentioned (as the draw they are). And yet I have yet to read or hear any discussion in these contexts of how fee-for-placement organizations and companies dominate the field of international internships.

Even more distressing for me, as someone who works with students day to day, is the fact that fee for placement has come to dominate international volunteer placements as well.

Do a Google search, browse the latest volunteer or internship posting on Idealist -- what you'll find are almost exclusively placements offered by companies for a fee.

Recently I've tried to become a little more active in the Building Bridges Coalition (active in a passive sense, such as it is: participating in a conference call discussing future plans & direction, reading materials and information prepared by the Coalition, etc). The stated goals of the BBC, right there on its homepage (and currently under revision), are:
It is a consortium of leading international volunteer organizations, universities and colleges, corporations, and government agencies working collaboratively towards the following goals:
  • Double the number of international volunteers sent abroad annually by 2010
  • Improve the quality of international volunteer service
  • Maximize the positive impacts of international volunteer service in communities around the world
More details on those goals -- and how the BBC aims to achieve them -- can be found one click in.

But nowhere in these goals and strategies, and nowhere (that I can recall) in the circulating drafts of the revised mission statement, can be found a discussion of the cost of volunteering and the need to address questions of expense (from all perspectives). It seems rather baffling considering what a stumbling block it is to achieving... well, all of the goals.

It's this gap in the discussion -- the seeming inability for us as a community to explicitly address and ask for an accounting -- that I find most disheartening. Those of a conspiratorial mindset would look at the members of the BBC and note the preponderance of providers on the rolls (and, for that matter, study abroad [which internships programs are often bundled with for university & college students] can be revenue positive, very positive, for academic institutions).

I'm not so inclined. I think this is the model that has developed. And it's a good one for many people: providers, clients, and businesses & communities (that receive interns and volunteers). It is the model that has come to dominate because anything else is incredibly difficult (and let's call it outright: expensive, in time and treasure). But until another, sustainable (and sustained) model is offered, pay-to-play is going to predominate.

I just wish we could talk about it a little more. Or at least would think to...

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So you want to be an aid worker?

Deserted: Refugee Camps in Chad; a slideshow @ The New Yorker websiteIn a recent issue of The New Yorker, Jonathan Harr wrote an intriguing and disturbing piece on the refugee camps in Chad, housing the displaced of Darfur and a small cadre of worn down aid workers titled, Lives of the Saints.

(Clicking on the image above, by the way, will take you to an online only slideshow accompanying the article.)

As Harr notes early, the camps he visits are about the hardest of all possible hardship postings. The sheer number of refugees, and the scope of needs is almost unparalleled. Supplies and resources are in frightfully short supply. The area is, effectively, a war zone. Political control has largely broken down.

Still, I see many students who want to "do good" and work in the "humanitarian" field -- which often, when pressed, means they are interested in doing relief work. And there are some potentially hard lessons to be learned from this piece.

For one, I would be surprised if anyone who hasn't lived in a camp such as this can ever be prepared for the sheer misery. As Harr points out repeatedly, it is grinding -- bone and soul grinding -- for both the refugees and the aid workers.

Also, aid work is about provision of often frightfully limited resources, which means not just offering support to a particular camp, community, or individual, but also often limiting or shutting off those same supplies.

Similarly, aid work is about logistics -- getting supplies from point A to point B -- and documentation: filling out all the paperwork required by the manifold layers of bureaucracy.

Most important to note in Harr's piece -- certainly striking to me -- is the fact that those who are doing the work on the ground are those with highly specialized skills and lots of experience. A lot of the workers that Harr profiles also happen to be African, a reality that I am (perhaps mistakenly) under the impression doesn't really register with many of the folks I sit down with here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Again, it's important to recognize that the refugee camps in Chad are about as hard as they come, and there is a tremendous need for skilled -- and hardened -- professionals. But the same holds in broad strokes for any and every such camp; Africa, as a friend of mine likes to note, is not lacking for inexpensive, well-intentioned but generally unskilled workers. If you want to be an aid worker you need to develop a skill set and experience that is going to allow yourself to be of use: not just to individuals on the ground (where compassion might very well soothe for a moment) but to the massive agencies that funnel resources and supplies into the camps.

That is a tall order indeed.

And so we bump up against the rather standard refrain: all these jobs require experience, but how can I get experience if I can't break into the field?!?

Look locally. Work locally. Do your research (I always tell folks you have to know your field -- and what it requires). Talk, talk, talk, talk to others. And read. Skills are transferable. Start working in poverty alleviation locally. Volunteer with the Red Cross for disaster relief. Get some medical training.

There actually is a lot you can do. Locally. And if you're young and really have both a desire and the motivation to work in the field, you can. But it's not going to be something you can just decide to do and parachute in.

Read Harr's piece -- if you have any sense, you wouldn't want to just drop in. There's simply far too much at stake. For everyone.

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

BUNAC (to the UK) is back...

I just received an email earlier today announcing that a version of the BUNAC Blue Card is back with its Intern in Britain program.

The announcement I received opened with the following:
BUNAC is pleased to announce the launch of our exciting new Intern in Britain program. This is a one-time opportunity for US students and recent graduates to work as an intern in the UK for up to 6 months. The program will be available to your students exclusively through BUNAC and comes after many months of negotiations with the UK government.

I would love to know what went into those negotiations. Unlike any other extant program, there's no academic component to this one (that I can find). The announcement noted it comes in under Tier 5 of the new UK immigration scheme which provides for "youth mobility and temporary workers, who are allowed to work in the United Kingdom for a limited period of time to satisfy primarily non-economic objectives" (see here).

A couple initial observations:
  • It's pricier than the earlier program (at least as best as I can recall) -- program fee eventually will reach $750 (1 October 2009). You also must have at least $1500 in reserve and insurance coverage.
  • Participants need to set up their internship prior to applying for the necessary permit. It's the classic chicken and egg problem of working abroad: one of the great strengths of the earlier BUNAC program was that participants got the necessary papers & permits to work prior to arriving in the UK and could tramp around applying for work. No more!
  • The internship must be skilled (or rather, according to the BUNAC site and some lovely bureaucratese, "cannot be an unskilled position"), should be a minimum of 25 hours a week, "subject to National Minimum Wage," and must be "supernumerary" which, again according to the website, means that "the presence of an intern must not harm the resident labour market. Interns must not fill vacancies in the UK workforce and must do work that is additional to the employer's normal staffing requirements."
Just saw something else of interest: the £125 visa fee is not included in the program fee.


It will be interesting to see how this takes off, and how BUNAC's numbers for this iteration of the program compare to its earlier set-up. Still on the whole cheaper than most providers but I wonder how difficult it will be for interested students and graduates (you have 12 months following graduation to join the fun) to search for an internship on these terms.

My sense is that this is going to be a vehicle for other providers who have networks and relationships with employers and organizations (and are able to actually coordinate and set up internships with them) to get their interns abroad under the new system.

Boy, oh boy... This really does point out how important it is for students to network and interview (informational) when they are in the UK on a study abroad program (or even just traveling for pleasure) if they think they might be interested in returning to work one day!

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on the UK tier system...

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a lot of good news on this front. I have yet to find any clear, concise explanations of the system generally and questions (and answers) continue to shoot back and forth on a number of listservs about whether this or that student needs a visa or a particular sort of visa (and there is considerable confusion on this last point) and...

Well, there's no reason that sometime in the future, near or far, once schools, providers, staff, and students & workers are acclimated to and more familiar with the new system it won't seem easy and streamlined.

But for the time being? It's something of a mess.

For example, here's the explanation the UK Border Agency provides in a publication titled UKBA Student Visas: Step By Step Guide for US Passport Holders (pdf):

Steps to entering the UK as a (Non-PBS) Student Visitor

As a short-term student entering the UK, you may enter without a visa. However, you must be prepared to show the Immigration Officer at the airport (or other port of entry) that you have been accepted on a course of study by:

a) An Accredited Educational Institution

b) An institution that holds a Tier 4 Sponsor Licence, or

c) US Institution of Higher Education which is delivering only part of its program in the UK and holds its own national accreditation and awards degrees equivalent to those in the UK (eg study abroad programmes). In order to meet the requirements of being an overseas Higher Education Institution offering programmes at an equivalent of a UK degree, the institution should be recognised by NARIC.

You will do this by showing an original letter from that institution which confirms that it meets one of the requirements above, provides details about you, that you will be enrolled in classes and will include details regarding the start and end date of the course.

· You will be asked to show the Immigration Officer that you will have the necessary funds to pay for your course fees and support yourself for the entire period you intend to stay in the UK. This can be in the form of scholarship, grant or other financial aid award letters as well as bank statements in your name which are dated no more than one calendar month before you arrive in the UK.

· You will demonstrate your willingness to leave the UK once your course of study is complete by showing return tickets or an itinerary with your name and information on them.

· You must present a valid US Passport that will not expire while you are in the UK.

· You will receive a student visitor stamp/endorsement in your passport when you present your documents.

· If you travel outside the UK during your course of study, show the Immigration Officer your Student Visitor stamp/endorsement (code 5N) and the institution letter when re-entering the UK.

· Students arriving in the UK through Ireland should actively seek out an Immigration official upon arrival in the UK to ensure that their passport is stamped with the student endorsement.

Holy smokes!! And this doesn't even address whether or not to apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa. Notice the nuance -- enter as a "Student Visitor" or on a "Student Visa".

The UKBA does have available a visa wizard which is a great concept. Unfortunately, the "explanation" of the yes/no determination are links to a host of web documents about the various possible visas you could be entering under. Not the best possible solution (the language and intricacy of the new system is mind-numbing; and discouraging) but it is a start.

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

To work in the United Kingdom...

...or not.

The United Kingdom recently revamped their visa regulations, switching over to what the UK Border Agency calls the points-based system.


There's been less chatter than I expected there would be on this, though perhaps that's because no one is really sure what to make of it yet. It has, effectively, killed off the granddaddy of all schemes to get US students to the UK to work: the BUNAC Blue Card Program (quick note of clarification: BUNAC as an organization lives on, but the US-to-UK program is done) -- and with it any number of other organizations that arranged internships for US students and graduates but relied on BUNAC to get folks into the UK legally.

It's something of a mess trying to make heads or tails of the new system. There is a lot of information on the internet about it, and a lot that can be found on UK Border Agency pages, but trying to make sense of what options might be available to students and recent graduates...

Yikes. Which is somewhat akin to my earlier ouch.

As best I can figure, for US students and recent graduates it effectively boils down to this: you simply can no longer work in the UK. If you want to secure some sort of work or internship, it must be part of an educational exchange with an accredited, monitored, and licensed sponsoring educational institution/program (to be fully implemented on 31 March 2009).

For those familiar with the old system and regulations, there's an overview of the changes available. But because they have not yet fully implements Tier 4 -- which is the student category -- specific information as it relates to students (and I am fairly confident in saying that this effectively wipes out recent graduate opportunities) is lacking.

There is a rather daunting Guidance for Sponsor Applications on the Border Agency's website for the hardcore among us -- together, I might add, with equally daunting guides to immigration offenses and penalties.

Here is a snippet from the post-March 31 Guidance:
223. Migrants in the Tier 4 (General) Student category on courses of study at a minimum of NQF Level 3 or its equivalent (or at the equivalent of a United Kingdom degree level or above if an overseas qualification) are able to take course-related work placements. Work placements must take up no more than 50% of the full course length in the United Kingdom.

224. Migrants in the Tier 4 (General) Student category are also allowed to do other work. During term time, they are allowed to work for a maximum of 20 hours per week and during vacations they can work full time. This is in addition to any work placement that forms part of their course.

227. Other than when the migrant is on a work placement, all study that forms part of the course must take place on the premises of the sponsoring educational institution, or at a temporary location authorised by the sponsor. For example if the student is on a field trip, this will be acceptable.

Not overly daunting -- though the big change, the real earth-shaking change when it comes to what's been possible in years past, is in the requirement that this work is tied, both in terms of time but also in terms of type to an educational program.

Now there are other levels and other tiers -- though tier 3 unskilled labors has already been suspended and their are intimations that depending on circumstances tiers 1 & 2 might be similarly restricted or shut down -- but realistically there is precious little room for recent graduates in the scheme, which is understandably if disappointingly skewed to bringing in highly skilled labor.

And from the UK side of things -- be they educational institutions or companies -- I cannot imagine that there is much happiness about the multiple layers of application, vetting, and licensure that now seems to be required, although one recent report notes mixed reactions.

It is interesting to note that as the UK clamps down, other countries are opening up. Australia has been pushing its working holiday options lately, and Canada, (US citizens are actually out of the running for Canada too; see the list of eligible countries), New Zealand, and Singapore offer similar programs open to US citizens -- though these are quite different beasts from the BUNAC Blue Card Program to the UK, not the least because they require proof of a substantial bankroll (in support of the time you are holidaying and not working in country).

Well, I guess if you want to work in a pub, you can still go to Ireland.


Addendum (20 May 2009): Well, it just keeps getting more and more challenging. Here's a bit of the latest from NAFSA which maintains a running log of UK visa regulations updates.
Please also note that as of June 1st students will have to demonstrate that they have held the requisite tuition and maintenance funding for 28 days. The concession currently in place allowing students to simply show possession of the funding at the date of application will end May 31st.

Again, I can understand the rationale behind this, but for students relying on the disbursement of financial aid from their home institutions...? Oy!!

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Fee for placement internship opportunities?!? I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you!!

The now defunct NPR program, Day to Day, recently ran a story on the practice of paying for summer internship placements, Really Want That Internship? Pay Up.

Now, to anyone who has looked for international internships over the last few years this will come as no great surprise. Third-party providers have come to dominate international placements; and the results of a Google search for international placements of any sort are clogged with them.

It can be a mind-numbing, frustrating, and more than a little discouraging experience. "Pay to play" seems to be the order of the day.

There is assistance available. Here at UW-Madison the Letters & Science Career Services office coordinates the Henderson-Reznick Family and Shinners Family Summer Internship Scholarships -- a $5,000 award (deadline this year is 31 March 2009). Since that link might disappear after the deadline an archived copy of the application is available on Go Global! servers.

As seems to be implied in the Day to Day piece (and as many of the comments on the story explicitly assert) the idea of paying for an internship (let alone a volunteer placement -- as is the norm now for international placements) is an uncomfortable one: and as it becomes commonplace, these very limited -- albeit generous -- financial assistance packages do little to address the larger questions of access and equity.

This is, by far, the most pressing question and concern of the students interested in working internationally who come by for advising. And there's just not a lot that can be done. It's a fact of life: money buys access.

There has been some pushback and there are some resources available -- with a focus on volunteer opportunities (though in my experience, the distinction between "intern" and "volunteer" is more of historical interest than significant nowadays). Interestingly, much of it has been focused in Latin America, where there are a few websites that emphasize low to no-cost opportunities:
There are, of course, the old work horses such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) though here you're getting more into the realm of short-term work opportunities, something I'll be tackling in more detail later (with WWOOF too, as with Volunteer Latin America and others, you buy access to information for a small fee).

There are also new social media sites that are worth exploring -- such as SE7EN and TrekShare. Whether either of these will have legs is anyone's guess at the moment.

I would say "the more the merrier" but with the raw, ham-fisted power of Google and the rather limited ability to sift and winnow and focus both of existing tools and many of those looking for opportunities, it will continue, I think, to be a question of finding those live bodies who can direct you to the better, "hidden" treasures.

Or just buy your way in.

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The land of milk and honey: not so sweet and nourishing anymore?

Interesting but in many respects unsurprising is a recent column by Vivek Wadhwa on BusinessWeek.com titled "Why Skilled Immigrants Are Leaving the U.S." Wadhwa and a team at Duke University have done some research showing that foreign workers coming to the United States (and students who come to study and stay to work) are increasingly heading home.

There is, of course, the much lamented and discussed wait period to secure the necessary permits and visas (the dreaded H1-B) to blame. But Wadhwa also points to another factor in many instances: the fact that these workers can enjoy a better quality of life in their home country than they currently enjoy in the United States.

Now, milk and honey is not slurped uncut anywhere anymore:
It isn't all rosy back home. Indians complained of traffic and congestion, lack of infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, and pollution. Chinese complained of pollution, reverse culture shock, inferior education for children, frustration with government bureaucracy, and the quality of health care. Returnees said they were generally making less money in absolute terms, but they also said they enjoyed a higher quality of life.

But, still, in surveys Wadhwa and his team found that:
Eighty-seven percent of Chinese and 79% of Indians said a strong factor in their original decision to return home was the growing demand for their skills in their home countries.

This certainly points to expanding labor markets (these expansions might not hold through the current downturn -- what expansions are? -- though one would imagine as the world economies pick back up these expansions will as well). It's not at all clear, however, what corollaries or lessons we can draw for US students interested in working abroad. I doubt that these labor markets are, in most instances, developed enough to begin to absorb excess labor (as the US economy has done -- has depended upon -- for years and years).

One thing that it does mean, for every graduate of any particular US institution of higher education (and perhaps mostly especially for those larger schools like the UW-Madison which have tremendous international student populations), is that there will be more and more alumni of your alma mater in country with whom to network.

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An object lesson in reading far and wide...

Casement internship @ The Economist magazineSo you are looking for an internship in the sciences. And you want to work internationally. Would you think to look for opportunities in the magazine, The Economist? Probably not. But look at this. While reading through a recent issue (7-13 February 2009 to be precise) I came across an advert for the Richard Casement internship at the magazine printed at the end of an article on the Darwin and evolution. Notice how small the type is?

Here's what it says:
We invite applications for the 2006 Richard Casement internship. This is for a would-be journalist under 25 to spend three months of the summer on the newspaper, writing about science and technology. Our aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist. Applicants should write a letter introducing themselves, along with an original article of about 600 words that they think would be suitable for publication in the Science and technology section. They should be prepared to come for an interview in London or New York, at their own expense. Applications must reach us by February 25th. They should be sent by e-mail to casement@economist.com.

There is an online listing for the internship but it's tagged to the pages in the print edition. As of today it's not showing up when you click through from the homepage >> career opportunities >> internships >> other internships link series.

What I find most intriguing about the opportunity is that the magazine's "aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist."

Regardless of what discipline or field you work in, you need and ought to reading far and wide. Obviously you can't scoop up everything, but it is little gems like this that you are much more likely to stumble across. Otherwise you will simply run after the same opportunities as everyone else -- with about as much luck.

Not to mention the fact that you will simply know so much more about the world you live in and the wider world in which you wish to work (and be that much better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that do come along). After all, if you want to work internationally in the sciences, it's not enough anymore (was it ever?!?) just to be strong in the scientific discipline of your choosing. You must be equally ready to prepare yourself for the challenges that come from working in a global workplace.

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If it walks like a duck... and clucks like a chicken, what is it?

Is this the future? Is this the new global worker?

There was a flurry of coverage in the press recently about IBM's decision to offer US-based employees the option of what amounts to expatriating themselves along with their newly "outsourced" jobs.

Information Week posted one of the original stories on IBM's "Project Match" which aims to move current US-based workers to offices overseas -- where those workers will be paid the prevailing wage in the destination country. Perhaps not such a bad deal if its a choice between expatriating yourself (and your family too? well, that could be a problem...) and getting laid off.

And these are the folks reportedly receiving the offer: workers who are being laid off by IBM. In addition to applying for positions in Brazil, India, Nigeria, the Czech Republic, and other offices, employees are being offered financial assistance with the move and help securing the necessary visas and permits -- both of which are among the primary roadblocks to working overseas for many.

Certainly, from the perspective of recent graduates -- who are Go Global!'s primary audience -- it seems like an excellent option.

If you are able to take a long term perspective, this could be an excellent option for all parties involved: cuts IBM's costs, gives workers (and we are all supposed to be and/or becoming "global" workers) valuable overseas experience while potentially allowing them to keep seniority and working up the hierarchy of the company, allows IBM to retain valuable employees, etc.

Of course, you're asking workers to uproot their entire lives, putting themselves -- and their families -- into a completely foreign setting, and subjecting them to what amounts to a tremendous cut in pay (softened, of course, by the lower cost of living). And there's no telling if expatriated workers would ever be able to find a place with IBM back in the States.

There has been a tremendously negative reaction to the plan. A recent story on NPR's "All Things Considered" has a bit more on the substance of the offer and the reaction. It's an intriguing -- if potentially very disruptive -- opportunity for workers. Certainly, I see no end of students who would jump at the chance: so many come into our office saying they are willing to do anything, just about anywhere, so long as they can come out of it about breaking even.

This also points to one of the other real difficulties in securing overseas work: these positions are being offered to existing workers who would otherwise be laid off -- that is, they've been with IBM for some time and have developed skill sets that IBM needs and wishes to retain. Hard to find a recent graduate with either in hand.

Even if you want to get outsourced overseas you have to "pay your dues" and "do your time".

Want to share your reaction to the above?
Email Go Global! with your thoughts.