New guidelines to promote best practice for employers taking on work experience students and to protect journalism interns from exploitation is awaiting launch by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and industry training organisation Skillset.

The rising number of students graduating from university and college journalism courses that feel obliged to work for little or no wage has made the union and industry group re-evaluate previous guidelines set out in 2007.

The new guidelines are part of an ongoing campaign by the NUJ to improve work experience conditions for recently qualified journalists and journalism students and establish industry standards for placements.

As part of its campaign, a recent survey of newly qualified journalists by the union suggested that one in five had undertaken three or more month's unpaid employment after graduating from their course. More than half of respondents said they had received little support or direction during their internship.

"While most people we raise this with recognise the problem exists, most are surprised by the extent to which major media organisations are relying on free labour," said NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear in November, when the union referred its survey findings and campaign to the Low Pay Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into which organisations use internships to get people to work for nothing.

But, in a recent Times report, Heather Collier, the director of the National Council for Work Experience, explained the lure of work experience for employers: "As pressure mounts on recruitment budgets for employers during a recession, internships are often seen as a cost-effective means to drive talent into business."

A spokeswoman for Skillset told that it is in the process of signing off the final guidelines, which will be published within the fortnight.

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