Dreary 'office life' begins early for those who stay at home

March 10, 2006

The Sodexho-Times Higher University Lifestyle survey shows money worries preying on an increasingly sober lot of students. Anna Fazackerley reports

British universities are populated by a growing army of "office worker" students who live at home, spend hours commuting, and work as well as study, the Sodexho-Times Higher survey reveals.

Living at home with parents is now the second most popular option for those attending university as students struggle to avoid mounting debts.

But the University Lifestyle Survey, which interviewed more than 2,000 students in 112 universities, paints a stark picture of life for these live-at-home students. It suggests that the university experience is for many young people a rather isolated one, a world away from the ivory towers depicted in famous novels such as Brideshead Revisited.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative Shadow Higher Education Minister, said: "We all lived in foul and pestilential student squats - but that was a far better experience than staying at home."

He added: "It is very sad if students are being driven away from the campus. A lot of the instruction you get at university is from your peers, and it shouldn't be so densely integrated into real life that you can't really tell the difference."

The survey found that 18 per cent of all students live at home with their parents; the figure rises to 25 per cent in new universities.

These students are more likely to have farther to travel to university than those living in rented flats or halls. Strikingly, 15 per cent of live-at-home students spend three or four hours commuting every day.

Although they may avoid paying rent by living at home, these students are still significantly more likely than campus-based students to need to work at a part-time job.

More than half (54 per cent) of students who live with their parents juggle a paid job alongside their studies - compared with only 12 per cent of students in catered halls.

After they have completed their commute, finished work and attended lectures and seminars, this group of students, unsurprisingly, has little time left for the lighter side of student life.

The survey found that more than 33 per cent of students who live at home with their family spend two hours or less socialising on the average weekday. This figure compares with 20 per cent for students in catered halls.

As an indication of their distance from traditional university life, these students are also less likely to socialise with fellow students on campus.

In total, 65 per cent of students who live with their family choose to do all or most of their socialising away from the university.

Julian Nicholds, vice-president for education at the National Union of Students, said: "Going to university is about working hard to get what you want, but it should also be about getting involved. We say to students that it is about your academic education, but it is also about the soft skills you acquire."

He added: "Many students living at home don't live close to their institution. They stay within their own social group, so they lose the chance to meet a new group of people from a diverse range of back-grounds."

Claire Callender, professor of social policy at London South Bank University, said: "If university is meant to be in part a vehicle for social mobility, one facet of that will be the mix of people students meet at university.

"Those who live at home will miss out in terms of making new friendships that are likely to be from a broader cross-section of society."

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