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The Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC), which is the UK’s largest accreditation body for broadcast training, has launched a first-of-its-kind scheme to help journalism students afford industry work placements.

The Placement Assistance Scheme, which offers a one-off £200 bursary, has received funding from the Google News Initiative, BBC and ITV News as partners. It is particularly aimed at supporting students from minority ethnic backgrounds and disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.

The cost of the commute is the first obstacle that this bursary can help overcome. However, what makes this scheme different is the breadth of spending a student can use it for. This includes less obvious expenses, such as a new pair of shoes, a specific piece of equipment, a fee to make up for lost earnings or to pay for childcare. Funding can be used at student's discretion without needing to provide receipts of purchase.

This is both to make the placements viable and affordable but also allows students to feel more confident in the newsroom. This is crucial to creating real change, according to BJTC chief executive Jon Godel.

"The industry is crying out for diversity, they are looking for people from different places," he explained.

"This initiative demonstrates the importance the BJTC and our media partners are placing on doing everything we can to have diverse journalists from a range of backgrounds working in newsrooms."

Reports in 2013 indicate that as many as four in five 18-34 year-olds cannot afford to do unpaid placements in London. Meanwhile, studies in 2016 showed just 11 per cent of UK journalists come from working-class backgrounds, while 60 per cent of Britons regard themselves as working class.

The project comes as welcome relief to a sector widely built on unpaid placements, often described as the 'unspoken first step into the industry'. Being unable to complete unpaid work experience narrows job prospects or career advancement for candidates from diverse backgrounds.

Discussions at BJTC events this year revealed the extent of which imposter syndrome is present within journalism university courses throughout the country.

Course leaders spoke of situations where students lost out on unpaid placements which they could not ultimately afford, or when they were able to afford it, they felt like they did not belong there.

In time, Godel hopes to achieve a more up-to-date and precise picture of the national level of need within journalism students. For now, this initial effort will give some indication as to how deep this problem is and where more subtle struggles still exist.

"We don’t know the full demand. The first year is a trial, then we can then ask: 'Do we need to go and find more money?'," he said.

"By the end, we’ll have a true gauge of the picture from those that have come forward."

Students will be given a space in the application to explain their personal circumstances and what benefit the funding will bring. Godel encouraged students to detail, for example, if they have a background in social care, received free school meals or whether they were the first family member to attend university.

The applications open in January 2020, with the deadline on 28 February 2020. Click here for more information.

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