The college’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering had agreed to host a week-long work experience placement for an A-level student from the fee-paying Westminster School.
Before being withdrawn, one of the placements was available through an auction, with the proceeds going towards supporting Westminster School’s bursary programme and capital building projects.
The auction website, now taken down, said the placement promised “a fascinating insight into the field of biomedical engineering and would be a wonderful addition to the CV of any budding scientist”.
The scheme was called “dismal” by Bad Science author Ben Goldacre.
“[Unpaid] internships like these are bad at the best of times…This Imperial College internship takes the problem to a whole new level, by actively charging.
“I don’t doubt that Westminster public school (£7,236-a-term) wants to do lovely constructive things with the money. Selling access to professions is not the way to do it,” he said on his website.
The sabbatical officers of the Imperial College Student Union also condemned the auction.
“It is our fundamental belief that access to education should be based on merit, not ability to pay; and that efforts to widen access to an Imperial education to students from disadvantaged backgrounds are a central part of the College’s academic mission.
“For a publicly-funded body to restrict this transformational opportunity only to the wealthy is a betrayal of our academic principles and the work to widen access to which so many staff and students have given their time,” said a statement on the union’s website.
A spokesman for Imperial College said that work experience placements at the institution are considered locally within the college’s departments.
“An Imperial staff member had agreed with Westminster School to host two work experience placements for A-level students at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, each lasting a week,” he said.
“One placement was to be auctioned, with the proceeds to go towards supporting Westminster School’s bursary programme and capital building projects. The other place was to be reserved for a pupil from one of Westminster’s state school partners.
“On reflection the Institute of Biomedical Engineering has requested that the auction place be withdrawn and is considering the best and fairest approach to hosting work experience placements in the future,” he added.