One of the justifications for making students pay towards their tuition costs is that they are going to earn so much more than non-graduates once they are clutching their degree certificates. But, until they graduate, our survey reveals that many students may well benefit from the government's plans to set a minimum wage next year.
The THES surveyed over 200 students at 50 universities and discovered that the majority will spend this summer working to pay off student loans, which average Pounds 2,000.
Rates of pay vary enormously - some students have landed on their feet with jobs paying over Pounds 300 per week, but this is very much the exception. The average rate of pay for female students is Pounds 3.80 per hour with male students being paid Pounds 4.55. This may be because the women who responded seem to have found jobs in waitressing and retailing while men are more likely to be office based, making use of their studies before they graduate in jobs such as computer programming and accounting. More female than male students felt they were not being paid a reasonable rate - 50 per cent as opposed to 35 per cent.
One way to avoid lowly paid work is to go through a university employment service. John Sandon, employment officer at Sussex University, says that the university insists on a minimum wage of Pounds 3.77 for students. Sandon says the decision to implement a minimum wage was taken three years ago: "There has been a shift and we've lost probably 5-6 per cent of job offers that fall at the lower wage level. However, because it is now policy to discard anything poorly paid we have time to search for more profitable jobs for students."
According to our survey three-quarters of male students and 81 per cent of female students have a job arranged for the summer vacation. Of those without work, 35 per cent of male students and 25 per cent of females said it was because they could not find a job; 15 per cent of male students and 25 per cent of female students said they were too busy doing other things and just two students said they had too much studying to do. One fortunate fellow said he just did not need the money.
Three-quarters of students said their motives for taking employment were purely financial and just under a quarter felt it would look good on their CV or was relevant to their course. Ten per cent said it was something they enjoyed and 5 per cent said it was a good way of meeting new people.
There is a huge gap between students' actual and ideal vacation employment. In response to a question asking respondents to describe their perfect summer job, one student suggested chief beer taster at Whitbread, another wanted to be an escort for Hollywood's leading ladies, while others dreamt about testing sunbeds and picking grapes. Ten per cent of students said that the job they had was their ideal employment. The boss's job was also a popular choice.
Truth being sometimes stranger than fiction, some of the real jobs students are filling this summer include ghost tour guide at Pounds 10.00 per hour, assembling mobile phones at Pounds 4.10 per hour, doing the rounds as a postman at Pounds 5.60 per hour and driver on the electric tourist train at Brighton for Pounds 4.75 per hour. Less fortunate students will be fish packing for under Pounds 3 per hour and looking after groups of 8-13-year-olds for Pounds 34.00 per week. One final-year student from Exeter University said: "With an overdraft as serious as mine I can't afford to hang around for a well-paid job."
Universities themselves do not pay jobbing students too badly, at least according to our survey. Jobs listed include work in the university press office at Glasgow (Pounds 110.00 per week) and assisting in the marketing department at Plymouth University (Pounds 3.91 per hour).