Is earning and learning good or bad for students?

December 4, 1998

Bad for you - "low-paid, unsafe, and in extreme cases, dangerous"

I am not saying students should not work. I am saying students should not have to work. For many, part-time study while continuing to work is an excellent arrangement. But if you are studying, say, engineering and have been in lectures from 9am to 5pm and then you go to work in a bar and do not finish work until 2am, not only will your studies suffer, your physical and emotional well-being will too.

Do not be fooled into thinking that working part-time while studying full-time is vital to career development. The work that most students get is by no means career-enhancing. Employers do not want graduates who only just managed to scrape through because most of their time at university was spent looking for ways to pay the rent. They need successful students who have been involved in clubs and societies, student-union politics and other life-enhancing extracurricular activities.

Employers are right to want this. Society is entitled to expect that students leave college, not only with study skills but also with work and life skills. But unfortunately, National Union of Students' research reveals that students not only miss lectures in order to work but that their work is frequently low paid, unsafe and, in extreme cases, dangerous. Only a minority of students are lucky enough to be employed by enlightened companies with full rights for part-time workers.

The NUS hopes to improve conditions for students forced to work to survive. Several universities are setting up employment agencies or letting student-union space to private agencies that will place students in safe work situations. De Montfort University recently launched a Work Bank, with the students union playing a role in ensuring that students find the right type of job and enjoy the rights and privileges of other workers.

Andrew Pakes is president of the National Union of Students.

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