Working time directive

October 24, 2013

Edward Acton (“You get out what you put in”, 17 October) argues that UK undergraduates should spend more time on their studies, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. I couldn’t agree more, but he fails to take account of the realities of student life, at least if the undergraduates at my university are anything to go by.

Last year, I asked my students about any part-time jobs they had and I was - naively, no doubt - horrified to find that the vast majority had part-time jobs and many of them were working 20 hours or more a week. The worst case was 30 hours a week, while one student worked from 11pm to 5am three nights a week, sometimes with 9am classes the same morning.

In many cases, perhaps, this was due to financial necessity: spiralling living costs are hitting students like the rest of us and student housing has become a racket. In others, the students seemed to be treating learning as something that principally or solely occurred during lectures and seminars, rather than through independent study, leaving them free to find part-time jobs to fit around their timetables.

The problem is made worse by limited contact time and large class sizes, which make formative assessment unrealistic and thus deprive students of the discipline and benefits of regular essay writing.

Either way, the result is that students such as these are in effect part-timers on full-time courses, with predictable effects on their performance.

Until this problem - which particularly affects students from less privileged backgrounds - is addressed, Acton is whistling in the wind.

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