Saturday, July 13, 2024

More than half of UK students working long hours in paid jobs

Must read

More than half of full-time students are working long hours in jobs to support themselves at university, spending nearly two days a week in paid employment during term time, owing to the cost of living crisis.

A survey of 10,000 full-time UK undergraduates by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found a record 56% had paid employment while they were studying, working an average of 14.5 hours each week.

Experts said that the lack of maintenance support was creating a two-tier higher education system, with a widening divide between students who need to work long hours to survive while their better-off peers are free to concentrate on their studies and improve their grades.

When combined with time spent attending lectures, classes and other study, students with part-time jobs are averaging 48-hour working weeks during term time, while some have 56-hour weeks – far above the average 36.6 hours by adults in full-time jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Rose Stephenson, Hepi’s director of policy, said the traditional model of higher education, with undergraduates studying full-time away from home, was becoming unattainable unless student maintenance support was improved.

Stephenson said: “As students battle the cost of living, the trend around part-time work becomes more concerning. Most students work and the number of hours they work is increasing, and if this trend continues full-time study may become unfeasible for many.

“The UK prides itself on its traditional, full-time residential study model for many students, with high completion rates. There’s a chance that without intervention, the higher education model may accidentally evolve … into a two-tier system based on who can afford to attend university.”

The cost of living crisis abruptly flipped the proportion of students mixing paid employment and full-time study. Before 2021, roughly two-thirds of students had no paid employment in term time. But this year, 56% of students said they had paid employment and were working longer hours than students in previous years.

Three-quarters of those in work said they did so to meet their living costs, while 23% also said they worked to give financial support for friends or family.

“For a lot of students, paid employment isn’t a choice, it’s something they have to do,” Stephenson said.

Graph student employment

Students on intensive courses, such as veterinary studies and dentistry, were averaging 56 hours a week on studies and paid employment, while 80% of students who had been in care were working in part-time jobs.

Nick Hillman, the director of Hepi, said many working students were now in the “danger zone” identified by earlier research, with higher drop-out rates and reduced chances of gaining first class degrees.

“I think this is already a problem,” Hillman said, adding that a “bifurcated” system was developing between undergraduates who can afford to enjoy the traditional university experience, including extracurricular activities and sports, and those for whom paid work “has to come first”.

skip past newsletter promotion

Students working part-time were also more likely to use artificial intelligence (AI) programs, and more likely to view their lectures online. Of those who didn’t have paid work, a third said it was because they couldn’t find a suitable job. Only 23% said it was because they did not need to work.

The National Union of Students (NUS) said in a new report that the proportion of students using food banks had doubled as the cost of living crisis worsened. In the 2023-24 academic year, 14% of students told the NUS they had used a food bank, compared with 7% in 2021-22.

Chloe Field, the NUS’s vice-president for higher education, said: “Not only are students cutting back on food, they are working almost full-time on top of already full-time studies, leaving them exhausted and unable to commit proper time and energy to our studies.

“The effects of the chronic underfunding of students are complex, but the solutions are simple: reintroduce maintenance grants that meet the true cost of living, increase maintenance loans, and make students eligible for universal credit.”

Hillman said undergraduates were now spending more time on their studies each week than when the survey first asked in 2016, exploding the myth that students were “snowflakes”.

Despite their additional workload, 39% of students said their course was good value for money, as satisfaction levels rebounded from the lows seen during the Covid pandemic.

Only 26% of students said their course was poor value for money, the lowest proportion for a decade. Helpi said the improvement was driven by higher satisfaction among international students.

Hillman, a former special adviser to Conservative higher education ministers, said the Conservative party’s manifesto promise to close “low-value” university courses in England and divert students into apprenticeships was “nuts, for so many reasons”.

Latest article