The pickings were slim this summer thanks to the economic downturn, but students were still able to find paid jobs.

While students abroad are struggling to find paid internships, and even pay for the privilege of working in certain companies, students in the UAE have found that paid work is still to be found.

Most university counsellors said their students made up to Dh4,000 per month this summer, though a handful were willing to forego payment for a chance to work in a prestigious company.

American University in Dubai (AUD) career services manager Sue Hunter said salaries varied from zero to Dh4,000. She said about one quarter of AUD internship seekers opted for unpaid internships at first-rate companies.

"From our experience students earn on average Dh2,500 a month," said Dr UmmeSalma Mujtaba, educational development officer at Heriot-Watt's Dubai campus.

She said unpaid internships are always available, with many students opting for them this year. "Whether paid or unpaid, we encourage students to undertake internships as we believe they add value to their learning experience, provide them with a networking opportunity and expose them to a real working environment."

Interns who were part of the SS Lootah Group's Mustakbali (Arabic for 'my future') Emiratisation programme earned between Dh2,000 and Dh4,000 as a stipend, said community programme manager Fatima Saeed Lootah.

Lootah, who oversaw and mentored the interns, said students mainly applied to gain work experience. "They don't expect to get paid and we've never heard any comments about payment. They come here for the experience."

Among those students who see more value in pursuing internships with well-known companies is American University of Sharjah mass communication major Nadia Al Samsam. This summer Nadia worked for six weeks at BMW Group Middle East where several experienced marketing executives shared their time and expertise.

"Money doesn't really matter because the things I'm learning here I'm going to take to the outside world with me and just having the name BMW on my CV is worth more than any money I could get," she said.

"There is no stipend as we feel the experience for the student is invaluable. It's an opportunity for them to learn before they earn," said BMW Group Middle East corporate communications manager Leanne Blanckenberg.

Blanckenberg said interns benefited from the opportunity of seeing what it's like working for a multinational company and gaining a memorable experience that helps enrich their careers.

According to Hunter, this summer AUD students had found internships easily, with more internship opportunities available than permanent positions.

"As far as I am aware all those seeking internships found one," she said.

However, Mujtaba said this year has been particularly challenging for students "and as a result many have had to face rejection when seeking internships".

She said this year saw students seeking different types of internships from voluntary and university work to placements at multinational corporations.

Al Samsam said the BMW internship was easily secured because the university approached her professor who recommended her for the position.

Applying at other companies was tough though. "I applied at other companies and so many of them rejected me - they either weren't hiring or ready to take on interns.