UCL Human Resources


Internships, Work Experience and Volunteering Policy

UCL's approach to engaging people to undertake a variety of work experience opportunities, including internships, student-based work experience and volunteering.



1. This policy sets out UCL's approach to engaging people to undertake a variety of work experience opportunities, including Internships, student-based Work Experience and Volunteering. The policy covers arrangements where the individual is undertaking work for the benefit of the organisation and "work shadowing", where the individual does not perform any work for the benefit of the organisation.

2. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that:

  • the differences between internships, work experience and volunteering opportunities are clear
  • that UCL adheres to HMRC rules
  • internship, work experience placement and volunteering opportunities are managed appropriately and in line with best practice


3. Those who want to gain experience in the workplace for career development purposes or those who wish to perform an unpaid activity for charitable reasons.  


Type of Arrangement




An internship should be for the education and / or career development of the intern and must meet the following requirements:

  • Interns should be offered meaningful work that will benefit them and the department.
  • Internships must not be used to cover substantive work.  For example, if the role would otherwise be covered by an employee the post should be recruited to in line with UCL's Recruitment and Selection Policy.

NB: If a work experience description is also met, the manager may choose which arrangement to apply.

Interns must be paid in line with the London Living wage reviewed annually. They should be appointed on a fixed term contract.

Payment will be subject to tax and NI.

Annual leave will be accrued on a month on month basis.
Entitled to statutory sick and other pay

Work experience

The work experience agreement can only be used for:

  • Students working as a required part of a UK-based further or higher education course if the placement doesn't exceed 1 year (alternatively, they may be paid on the UCL pay scale and engaged on a fixed term contract, in accordance with the UCL Recruitment and Selection Policy. The work experience agreement would not be required)
  • Students who are of compulsory school age. (School is no longer compulsory from the last Friday in June following their 16th birthday)
  • A placement that does not involve any work being performed, such as work shadowing where someone only observes.
  • Participants in EU Lifelong Learning Programmes (Leonardo da Vinci, European Community Youth in Action, Erasmus or Comenius)

You may agree to pay reasonable receipted travel and subsistence expenses.
You must not make any other payments, promise any future paid work or give any other benefits in kind.
Participants in EU Lifelong Learning Programmes may receive benefits stipulated by the scheme


Occasionally people volunteer to do unpaid work, which may be for a variety of reasons.  They:

  • Will have an arrangement with UCL which does not entitle them to a financial reward or benefit in kind for work they perform under the arrangement 
  • Do not have to turn up for work if they don't want to (even if you or their colleagues expect them to or they generally work to a regular pattern) 
  • Cannot be dismissed, sued for breach of contract nor have payment or reward withheld if they fail to do the work or perform the services they were providing.

NB: If a volunteering opportunity is advertised it should not be described as an internship

You may agree to pay reasonable receipted travel and subsistence expenses.
You must not make any other payments, promise any future paid work or give any other benefits in kind.



Purpose of internships

4. Internships are educational and career developmental opportunities providing practical experience in a field or discipline. They are structured, short-term, supervised placements often focused around particular tasks or projects with defined timescales.  The work should be meaningful and must be mutually beneficial for the intern and the department, therefore it is important to consider the type of work they will undertake.

Purpose of work experience

5. UCL supports assisting student's development of the skills and attitudes needed to succeed in the workplace, which is consistent with UCL's Widening Participation programme. Work experience placements provide participants with a general understanding of a work setting over a short period of time. 

6. UCL is supportive of staff encouraging their own children to undertake a work experience placement through the procedure outlined; it does not however, advocate staff bringing their own children to the workplace on an informal, unplanned basis.

Purpose of volunteering

7. People may have various motivations to volunteer at UCL, such as philanthropy, personal or career development.  Someone may volunteer to do work so that they can gain experience in the workplace.  However, for simplicity, if they meet the volunteer definition but not the work experience definition then the volunteer agreement should be used.  The work should be part-time or short-term in nature. 

Key principles and information

Access to IS systems

8. If the nature of the work requires access to IS systems, an intern or volunteer may be given a temporary visitor IS account.  Access to IS systems will not normally be granted as a matter of course to work placement students due to the administrative burden and risks involved. If however the nature of the work requires systems access, the work experience student may be given a temporary visitor IS account.

9. Normally Departmental Administrators will be able to use the UCL Services System to request and revoke access to UCL services for visitors. The costs incurred in setting up and closing the account will be chargeable to the host department. The UCL Information Security Policy must be provided to anyone granted IS access and their work must be closely monitored.

Access to Library Services

10. If the nature of the work requires access to UCL Library Services facilities, an intern, volunteer or work placement student may be given a temporary visitor library account.  A library account can be arranged through the appropriate categories on the UCL Services System. Please note that such visitors must follow the UCL Library Regulations.

11. Normally, Departmental Administrators will be able to use the UCL Services System to request and revoke access to UCL services, including Library access, for such visitors.


12. Anyone with access to UCL's confidential information or data must be informed, by their supervisor, of their responsibilities to maintain that confidentiality.  The department must also meet their responsibilities for workers and volunteers personal data, which is covered by the Data Protection Policy by keeping personal details secure and destroying them no longer than 12 months after the work ceases.

Health and safety

13. A health and safety risk assessment must be undertaken before commencing work, which should identify measures to be taken to control or eliminate risks.  A health and safety induction should be conducted by the Departmental Safety Officer or Safety Representative on their first day and be recorded on the Safety Induction Checklist.  Young people (under the age of 18) and their managers familiarise themselves with the restrictions on activities they can undertake and work experience rules, as outlined in the Safety Services Guidance on Young People.


14. The supervisor is responsible for providing an induction, including relevant information about the department, an explanation of the project/tasks and timescales for completion. Inductions will also need to address practical issues including; health and safety, confidentiality, access to IS systems and working with children (where the intern/volunteer has access to children).

Public liability

15. UCL's public liability insurance policy covers those conducting internships or voluntary work (including unpaid work experience). If the individual is registered via the UCL visitor system they will automatically be covered by UCL's insurance.  If they are not registered via the visitor system, the host department must forward the name, duration of the work and brief description of the duties to the Insurance Manager, Finance Division.


16. The host department must nominate a supervisor who should maintain regular contact, give necessary support and provide regular feedback on performance.


17. Upon completion of the internship (or voluntary work if requested), the supervisor should meet with the intern to conduct a final review of performance and to obtain the interns' views on the placement. A reference letter should be provided to the intern summarising the purpose of the internship, the work completed and the skills developed.


18. In accordance with UCL's commitment to fairness and equality, employees, interns, volunteers, and students will respect each other and maintain an environment free from discrimination, prejudice, intimidation and all forms of harassment including bullying.


Internship recruitment

19. Internship opportunities should be advertised to enable fair and equal access to all candidates. The opportunities may be placed on UCL's online recruitment system, departmental websites, with the UCL Union or UCL Unitemps and will normally outline: the internship project and duties, skills required, start date, duration, weekly hours and location. Interns should be selected on the basis of their skills to perform the project and may be interviewed if necessary.  The recruitment of interns must not be discriminatory and interns should be treated with professionalism and the same duty of care as members of UCL staff.  Interns are subject to UCL right to work checks, before the intern does any work. See procedure under Internship Payment.

20. At the start of the internship, the supervisor and the intern should agree the expected duties the intern will perform and the learning outcomes they should achieve.

21. Non EEA students may be able to be sponsored for their internship under Tier 5 (Sponsored researchers and Visiting Academics category), if the following criteria are met:

  • the work experience is supernumerary and involves taking part in a research project
  • the student receives payment. Unpaid internships cannot be covered through this route.

Please see the HR Immigration pages for information on how to apply for a Tier 5 certificate of sponsorship.

Internship payment

22. Interns are workers and not employees, which means they are casual staff. Casual staff have flexibility over whether they attend work. They should be engaged through UCL Unitemps, who will also perform the necessary right-to-work check. They will be paid at least the London Living Wage rate.

23. Paid leave will be accrued on all hours worked, based on a pro rata entitlement of 27 working days per annum. Interns will also be entitled to a pro rata entitlement of eight bank holidays, and six days when UCL is customarily closed. Leave is accrued after each timesheet is authorised and can be claimed at different points of time, not necessarily paid at the end of each month. The annual leave year runs from 1st October until 30th September. 

As a casual worker, Interns are entitled to receipt of statutory sick and other pay only.

Arranging a work experience placement

24. Those who wish to pursue a work experience placement at UCL will normally do so via their school, college or higher education institution (or parent/ guardian in the case of home schooled children), who should contact the prospective host department directly. Some students may have obtained paid bursaries from external foundations to conduct a work placement in a specialist discipline. Where students or parents/ guardians make direct contact with UCL, confirmation of all arrangements should be formalised through the respective school, college or higher education institution (except in the case of home schooled children).

25. The host department will be responsible on behalf of UCL for making all arrangements prior to, during, and following the placement and for ensuring that this policy is followed.

26. The department will need to consider:

  • The time and resources that can be devoted to the placement
  • Suitable tasks and duties
  • Health, safety, and welfare implications i.e. conducting a risk assessment prior to a work experience placement
  • The time it will take work experience placement students to learn and understand the task(s) involved
  • The timing of the placement and the disruption that it is likely to cause to the workplace routine and time critical tasks. Due to this consideration, some departments may only be able to facilitate work placements during specific periods e.g. summer vacation.   
  • Location of placement; the student should not have access to highly confidential/ sensitive or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Staff who work with a person under 18 as part of a work placement or otherwise must, regardless of whether they require a DBS check, comply with the UCL Guidelines for Working with Children and Vulnerable Adults and UCL Child Protection (Safeguarding) Policy
  • Right-to-work check, if the student is aged 16 or over.

Work placement agreement

27. In advance of the placement, Appendix B should be completed and sent to the school, college or higher education institution and the student undertaking work experience.

28. The duration of the placement must be agreed by the host UCL department, the school/ college and the individual undertaking the placement (with parent/ guardian input). The placement will normally be for 1 or 2 weeks and they may work or work-shadow for no more than 36.5 hours per week.  For students of compulsory school age the placement must last no longer than 3 months in duration and for other eligible groups not longer than 1 year.  Work experience students should not spend unnecessarily long or unsocial hours, or more than five consecutive days out of seven on their placement at UCL. A minimum of thirty minutes break should be provided for every four hours worked.

Disclosure and Barring Service checks (criminal record checks)

29. There are limited circumstances where government guidelines recommend Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly CRB) checks in employment settings for work experience.  DBS checks may be required for a supervisor where a member of staff has sole day-to-day responsibility for work experience students as part of their job description or where the placement meets other criteria set out by the Department for Children, Schools and families report: Safeguarding young people on Work-Related Learning including Work Experience.  Please discuss the process of DBS checking with your HR Services contact if you believe a DBS check is required.

School/ LEA approval

30. Schools/ Local Education Authorities may need to grant permission to UCL to accept students on work placements, and this may take a number of weeks to organise. The school, college or higher education institution may arrange for a teacher or other member of staff to visit prior to the placement to discuss the work placement, and they may want to conduct their own risk assessment. In addition, the school, college or higher education institute may ask for a final written report to assess various aspects of the student's performance.

Voluntary work

31. Voluntary work can be arranged on an ad-hoc basis or advertised.  If you have any concerns that the voluntary work does not meet the definition above please discuss the arrangement with your HR Business Partner.  If a volunteer will be involved in regulated activity, they should have a Disclosure and Barring check before they perform that activity.

32. Volunteers are not subject to right-to-work checks however voluntary workers are subject to these checks.  The differences between the two can be quite complex.  Therefore, to avoid the risk of a civil penalty, departments should confirm that volunteers are eligible to volunteer. Certain visas, such as visitor visas specifically prevent people that hold them from volunteering.

33. Departments should complete the Volunteer Agreement at Appendix A which specifies the nature and terms of the volunteer agreement.  A volunteer may wish to keep a learning log to record the dates that they attend UCL and the activities they perform.  


HR Employment Policy Team

January 2024