Understanding the value of internships


Internships, often referred to as ‘work placements’ in the UK, are pivotal in the career trajectory of high-flying graduates. They provide crucial workplace exposure and experience prior to graduate employment, and are a popular choice for many students as they develop their work readiness. Graduate destination data suggests that employment opportunities are stronger for students who have undertaken an internship, with such students also benefiting from improved academic outcomes.  

Despite this, internships remain poorly researched overall, raising important questions about how best universities can support such students. How prepared are they for their internship, and do they have the right skills to succeed? What do students expect from an internship, and do their expectations and goals change during their employment? Are some types of internship more beneficial than others? How quickly do interns develop the right balance of skills, and what do employers think about these students’ proficiency?  

By exploring such questions we believe that universities can help ensure that students are well prepared for their internships and the graduate employment market, and that opportunities are inclusive, and facilitate student success.

Research overview

The overall aim of this project is to explore the value of an internship, and understand how students develop skills, values and goals as a result of their internship experiences. The research is a multi-partnered collaboration, and the overall research programme comprises different workstreams.  

Workstream 1: Since 2016 we have been tracking students’ development across more than 100 competencies at three time points (pre-internship, mid-internship and end-of-internship), exploring their proficiency and rates of development. Alongside this, our research explores the goals, values and expectations that students have about their internships, as well as how they are perceived in the workplace by their workplace colleagues.  

So far, over 1250 students have taken part in the research from across three faculties; and over 1900 line manager and workplace peers from over 280 organizations have provided ratings of students at different time points. 

Workstream 2: Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been exploring students’ experiences of undertaking remote and hybrid internships. In this part of the work we interviewed 22 interns during the 2019/20 year, and analysed questionnaires and reflective essays from 175 current interns, to understand the way that their internship experiences had influenced their work readiness and competency development. 

Key findings

Top five issues arising from workstream 1:

  1. Students’ competencies develop at different rates. 

  2. There are discrepancies in the ways that students and their colleagues rate their competency development during the placement. 

  3. There are differences between student proficiency, and the rates at which competencies develop, depending on student demographics (e.g. discipline and gender). 

  4. The approach to pedagogy provides multi-layered feedback for students, and opportunities for them to self-manage progress. 

  5. The University can use this data to develop benchmarks, as well as evidence-based employability provision across the University, and with sector-wide implications.


The value of this work is multi-faceted. Student feedback suggests that they really value the opportunity to receive formative feedback from their colleagues, and find the opportunity for self-reflection helpful in navigating placement opportunities.  

For universities and placement hosts, the research is beneficial because it enables us to better target employability initiatives, measure and benchmark student progression, and so in time, improve the quality of the guidance we give to students. 

Publications and outputs


Videos and past events

Visual summaries


<iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" allow="autoplay" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/865859713&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=true&show_comments=false&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true"></iframe><div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/leedsunibschool" title="Leeds University Business School" target="_blank" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;">Leeds University Business School</a> · <a href="https://soundcloud.com/leedsunibschool/how-do-students-and-organisations-get-value-out-of-work-placements" title="How do students and organisations get value out of work placements?" target="_blank" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;">How do students and organisations get value out of work placements?</a></div>


  • BBC Radio Leeds – Richard Stead interviewed Dr Helen Hughes about the prevalence of hybrid working models and home-working (May 2021)


If you are interested in hearing more about the project, or are keen to collaborate, please get in touch with Dr Helen Hughes

Follow on Twitter: 

Connect on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/helen-hughes-3757762b/ 

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