Scotland's National Mining Museum is one of the lead partners in the internship programme

3,200 graduates apply for 20 paid internships in Scotland

Geraldine Kendall, 12.10.2011
MGS launches heavily oversubscribed interns programme
Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) has revealed that its new interns programme, which officially launched in Edinburgh yesterday, attracted more than 3,200 applications for just 20 places.

The programme aims to promote skills-sharing and sustainability in the museum sector through on-the-job training. Placements in areas ranging from digital resource development to outreach and education were offered at museums, galleries and local authorities across Scotland.

The 20 successful applicants will receive tax-free bursaries of £15,000 to support them through their year-long traineeships.

Yesterday, the interns met with their host organisations for the first time. The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, the National Mining Museum and the Scottish Maritime Museum are among those running placements.

MGS chief executive Joanne Orr said: “We designed the programme to meet the needs of the sector and offer opportunities for graduates to learn useful skills on the ground from other professionals in a working environment.

“The sheer number of applications received to the programme... illustrates the appetite there is for a project of this type.”

The scheme aimed to attract graduates from diverse backgrounds and did not require applicants to have previous training in museum-specific skills. It was funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme, which closed this year.

The MGS programme comes amid debate that the museum sector is shutting out less well-off graduates through a culture of unpaid internships.

The government issued guidelines earlier this year stipulating that placements that are not a compulsory part of a university course should be paid minimum wage to attract more graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Maurice Davies, the Museums Association’s (MA) head of policy, said the numbers applying for the MGS scheme showed how competitive it has become for graduates to enter the sector.

Davies said: “From one point of view it's great that so many people want to work in museums. But it's not easy for the individuals struggling to get a career in the sector.

“The MGS scheme is an excellent way of helping people train for museum work. Sadly most museums can't afford to pay interns.”

Davies urged other museums to ensure fair recruitment and maximise the benefits they offer interns, even when they cannot afford paid placements.

“Make sure recruitment to internship and volunteer opportunities is open and fair and that interns are properly trained and supported,” he said.


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12.11.2011, 19:26
Speaking as someone in Museums who doesn't have a postgraduate degree, I find the somewhat superior attitude of those who do have have one to be a common occurance. Therefore I applaud any programme that looks beyond a series of letters at the end of a persons name. The reason I do not have a masters is purely financial, it was a struggle to simply get through my undergraduate degree, and that was with a part time job to supplement myself. I know many that did Masters degrees because it was simply handed to them on a plate by parents with giant bank balances.
Museums are far too elitist, and to be told as an undergraduate that you don't have a hope in hell of getting your dream job because you don't have a Masters is ridiculous, and will surely discourage many from pursuing jobs in the sector. The whole point of these schemes is to encourage young people into heritage, which won't happen if you need to get multiple degrees to even be given the chance to try out a job in a Museum.
I think the current interns are incredibly lucky to have hands on experience of a job in a Museum, and I wish them the best of luck. I feel confident that they got their postitions because they were the right person, which is a revolutionary idea in the Museum world.
MA Member
02.11.2011, 20:23
This internship scheme almost certainly discriminated against applicants who had recently completed a Museum studies qualification. I actually recall this being directly referred to in the feedback, and I know that it was cited as a reason for not shortlisting people by some host museum staff.

For the current interns, I can't see how they will go on to get a job in the sector following their internship without this qualification. The reality is that it is a prerequisite in the vast majority of museum jobs (except subject specialist curatorial roles, when a Phd is required). I think this scheme, however admirable, will simply add to the vast number of people trying to pursue a career in this sector. How will this help in the long term?

It is unfortunate that so-called 'skills-training' is seemingly disregarded in favour of someone who may have worked in a museum cafe. Most Museum Studies graduates have spent a lot of time volunteering, often at a cost to themselves. It is unfortunate that this obvious commitment went unrecognised by Museums Galleries Scotland.
02.11.2011, 13:59
Museums are extremely hard to get into as a profession, and personally, I still feel there's always that 'Victorian' ethos, where we encourage inclusivity and 'educate' the masses... we say that 'museums are for all' but this does not necessarily extend to those who work in them. I am responding to some of the comments made, particularly:
"Another issue needing to be addressed is that the opportunities were primarily for those who had low income background etc. Is that really fair and is this not a little out of date, as those in middle income/ middle to low income backgrounds are finding it just as hard at the minute, as those who needed to have had a 'dinner ticket' when they were younger."
I understand that in the current climate it is difficult for all graduates to find employment in their chosen field, but there are other factors for those who come from a low level income background to contend with. These can include (amongst others) environment, expectations (or lack of), opportunities, education (school and where you went to school), family education (museum visits, access and encouragement of the books you read, the places you travelled to, visits to the theatre, encouragement in cultural activities…) the people you mixed with, the culture you grew up in. We are not just talking about income, but all the social, cultural and environmental factors.
This is backed up by government research. Most recently, in last Sunday’s Herald, there was an article covering the discrepancy of the number of pupils from different postcode areas who then go on to University education:
“An analysis of the numbers of the numbers of pupils leaving school between 1999 and 2010 has revealed the chances of young people entering higher education is still largely influenced by their postcode… a new comparison of school-leaver destinations has revealed the goal of overhauling university access in the poorest areas has failed in many cases.”
Many people think that museums are ‘not for them’ and many of us who work in museums strive for inclusivity, of finding inlets that encourage people to become engaged with the cultural sector. Why not so when encouraging diversity in the workforce itself? Is it fine encouraging people to visit museums, but not to work in them? Surely this attitude is hierarchical and “not a little out of date”?
The people who applied for the Internship came from a huge range of backgrounds, and every single one was a graduate. Those who were selected proved they had the transferable skills that would be required for the Internship, and a keen interest and drive to work in this sector.
The Open Museum team is comprised of staff with different backgrounds and specialisms, but all with a commitment to using museums as a catalyst for social change in communities. In addition to the skills and knowledge required to work in a museum we are highly experienced in engaging with community organisations and groups on a grass roots level. This balance of specialist museum knowledge and public engagement skills cannot be learned through a qualification but can only be gained through first hand work experience, which is what this internship provides. Our very own Museum Manager does not have a museum qualification to her name. Nor is a postgraduate a prerequisite for any of the roles within our team.
The skills and qualities required for working with communities are extremely diverse. How many talented people out there will never have the opportunity to realise their dreams because they simply don’t know what’s out there, and will never have the opportunity to find out?
14.10.2011, 11:46
To say that the internship favoured applicants with no or little museum experience is untrue and unfair. The article states that they "did not require applicants to have previous training in museum-specific skills" which is a very different thing. Having met many of the interns, it was clear that they have all spent time getting to know the sector, often through working/volunteering in museum shops, cafes and receptions. These are not necessarily positions requiring "skills training" in the traditional sense, as a curatorial post would, but invaluable experience nonetheless for gaining an insight into heritage and it's many facets, and for engaging directly with visitors - something that may help in bridging the gap there is in some museums between front-of-house and back office staff. Bearing in mind the vast numbers of people applying for the positions and the types of skills the recruiters were likely to be looking for, those who have undertaken such work would be at a definite advantage over those who have not - and arguably rightly so.
14.10.2011, 10:21
There was nothing stopping recent post grad Museum Studies students from applying, and in fact at least one of the interns on the programme does indeed have this qualification.
MA Member
13.10.2011, 12:21
This internship programme favoured applicants with no or little museum experience. If it were run again, it would be encouraging if the scheme supported the sector. What about recent Museum Studies Graduates?
George, Board Chairman, Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
13.10.2011, 09:36
In discussing internships in museums we have to remember that these aren't normally funded through core budgets, but through grant funding. The funders will put boundaries on how the funding is used. At The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses we have regularly run short term paid internships for recently graduated museum studies students, or those about to start their museums studies course who had some museum experience. We could not afford to offer internships this year because we didn't get the funding. Full marks should be given to MGS for trying to make use of national funding to support a number of museums to offer paid internships. Their collective bid to the Skills for the Future programme put in place the sort of programme that the sector should be running to support recent graduates but that we never normally have the money for.
12.10.2011, 14:51
I have been running a curatorial internship for English Heritage for the last three years. It is offered through a local University and paid at a rate slightly above the National Minimum. The intern is trained in all aspects of collections management and care and in the principles of interpretation, etc. I don't think it is fair to ask people to undertake this kind of work without pay
MA Member
12.10.2011, 13:56
I agree with you. As a History and Museum Studies Graduate, I would have relished the opportunity to learn skills only transferable on the premises through a closely monitored programme. It would be encouraging if we could make more of those who did a postgraduate in museum studies and are finding it hard to get into the sector, than offer it primarily for those recently graduated with little or no experience. It raises the question if a postgraduate in museums/heritage is actually needed?

Another issues needing to be addressed is that the opportunities were primarily for those who had low income background etc. Is that really fair and is this not a little out of date, as those in middle income/ middle to low income backgrounds are finding it just as hard at the minute, as those who needed to have had a 'dinner ticket' when they were younger.
MA Member
12.10.2011, 11:53
This internship programme favoured applicants with no or little museum experience. If it were run again, it would be encouraging if the scheme supported the sector. What about recent Museum Studies Graduates?