These are tough times for young people relative to the easy years of the long post-war boom. (Let's remember that these are still good times for young British people relative to other historical eras and many other countries.)
First, there's the squeeze on university places after a decade of rapid expansion. Lucy Tobin describes this well in an Evening Standard comment piece.
Then there's the over-supply of graduates that has devalued a degree in the eyes of some employers. The answer has been to gain a degree along with relevant work experience, hence the growing popularity of internships, as discussed by Jon Kelly for BBC Magazine.
Two problems arise from this. How to pay for higher education, and should students be paid for work experience internships.
The graduate tax suggestion is coming under fire before it's even been proposed (Lord Browne still has to make his recommendations on student fees). One way or another, students will have to contribute more for their education: two benefits of this are that successful universities will continue to compete internationally, and students will value their education more and should expect more of their tutors and institutions, so driving up standards.
A difficult jobs market has encouraged students and graduates to work for no pay. Up to a point, there are mutual benefits to be gained from a 'try before you buy' arrangement – but employers may need reminding to pay up. So a refreshing solution to this problem has been proposed by Michael White, himself a PR student currently on a (paid) work placement.
He suggests paying interns after a certain time period because beyond that they have become experienced workers rather than work experience students. So here's my proposal on a time limit:
Full-time internships should be unpaid for a maximum of three months. After that, the opportunity should be offered to someone else or the intern should be kept on and paid. Part-time arrangements (eg one day a week) could run for six months before pay became expected.
For more on this discussion, here's the recently-updated CIPR work placement charter.