Hansard Society dismisses £8000 scholarship charge

Hansard Society has continued to generate widespread concern online over the charity’s decision to charge students for access to internships within parliament.

The Hansard Society, which regards itself as “The UK’s leading political research and education charity” has among its supporters; BBC Parliament, the Cabinet Office, Speaker of the House, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Microsoft, Ministry of Justice, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.

The underfire organisation earlier published a press release to defend their stance on the charge for their scholarship programe:

The cost for this 11-week academic programme includes all academic tuition and student fees, accommodation in central London and unlimited travel by tube and bus in central London, plus visits to the devolved legislatures and many other activities. The Hansard Society is accredited by the British Accreditation Council and is a Member of StudyUK Further information about this programme is available on our website”

What Hansard Society’s statement fails to address is that undergraduates cannot access internships at the House of Commons or Lords outside of their scholarship. Therefore, the opportunity of a work placement with Parliament is completely dependent on an £8000 payment to their charity.
There is currently no internship available at BBC Parliament, The House of Commons, or House of Lords, which can be accessed by those who cannot afford the Hansard Society’s £8000 course.

The press statement names all of the benefits of paying for the study programme, implying that the internship is a small element of what a varied scholarship. However, they clearly see the internship as the biggest pulling factor, as the Hansard Society representatives I talked to used the term “internship” and “scholarship” interchangeably when talking about the opportunity.
The Hansard Society website boasts about:

a long tradition of supporting interns in the beginning or further developing their political careers. Many that have worked for us have gone on to distinguished careers in a variety of sectors and organisations including the civil service and Parliament, public affairs consultancies, NGOs and charities, the media and some have attained permanent positions within the Hansard Society”

The educational element of the course is what you pay for, but the internship provides the direct path in to distinguished careers.
As their website proudly claims, the Hansard Society’s internship is a fast lane to prestigious professions; it is invaluable only to those who can afford it.

The charity does not provide political placements for those who haven’t the financial means to take part in their programme. The definition of “scholarship” is “a grant of financial aid awarded to a student, as for the purpose of attending a college”. Hansard Society’s definition is very different.

Whilst the nature of the internship is true to this definition, in that it provides opportunity,  its expensive programme fails to merit the status of what is already a contentious scheme. The Hansard Society internship does not exist without the scholarship, and the scholarship is not available without an £8000. This opportunity has the benefits of an internship, but misses the criteria by actually costing participants £2000 more than the average undergraduate spends on rent, food, and living costs in a year.

Both scholarships and internships are forms of social mobility which exist to help gifted young people, indiscriminate of background. The Hansard Society’s placement does not achieve these goals.

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