Financial fears force students to juggle work and study

March 10, 2006

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

Students are working increasingly long hours to pay their way through university - with some juggling a full-time job alongside their studies, the survey found.

The Sodexho- Times Higher University Lifestyle Survey revealed that 9 per cent of students who take on paid employment in term-time work between 21 and 35 hours each week. Alarmingly, a further 2 per cent undertake more than 35 hours of paid work a week.

The findings will fuel fears that students are compromising their academic performance in the struggle to control their mounting debts.

A survey of undergraduates commissioned by Universities UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England that was published in November found that students who worked for 15 hours a week reduced their chance of getting a first or upper-second degree by one third.

Report author Claire Callender, an expert on student finance and debt at London South Bank University, said that students who worked tended to go to the library less, missed lectures, read less and did less private study.

She said: "Part-time working has a significant impact on students' academic results. That matters in its own right, but it also matters because it impacts on their long-term prospects when they graduate. This brings into question whether certain university experiences have become the preserve of the privileged student. Those who work tend to cut down on their social life, but a lot of informal learning takes place over a pint or a cup of coffee."

The National Union of Students said this week that it recommended that students should not work for more than 20 hours a week. The NUSsaid that students who worked excessively would not have time for social activities or important learning experiences such as volunteering or joining a society.

Oxford and Cambridge universities both strongly discourage students from taking jobs during their short terms, arguing that their academic work will be severely disrupted if they do.

The university lifestyle survey gives a detailed insight into how students fund their education.

Student loans remain the most popular form of financial support, with 65 per cent of students relying on them.

More than half of students (58 per cent) also receive money from their parents while they study.

But it is becoming increasingly normal for students to juggle a part-time job in between lectures and essays.

In total, the research found that 31 per cent of students do paid work in term-time. Students in Northern Ireland take on the heaviest workloads - 20 per cent of them put in more than 21 hours' paid work a week, and of these 5 per cent do more than 35 hours.

These long hours have a big impact on students' stress levels, the survey suggests.

The most common anxiety, cited by 61 per cent of students, was the difficulty of balancing academic, work and social commitments.

This has risen steeply from the last survey in 2004, when 41 per cent of students cited this balancing act as a major concern.

The survey showed that the most popular job for students is working in a shop or other retail business. This was followed by bar work and catering.

More unusual employment included working in a bingo hall, mystery shopping, cleaning, supervising lunches in a school and parking cars.

Professor Callender added: "One real problem is that, for the vast majority, their work experience is utterly unrelated to their studies. If they were studying physics and working for a physics lab that might be beneficial - but flipping burgers won't be unless they are studying catering."

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