An Australian study has found that students who work part time perform better in examinations than students without jobs. The findings counter growing concerns about the rising number of students working in term time.
Previous research has revealed that three-quarters of the nation's university students spend an average of 15 hours a week in paid employment, with more than 40 per cent working for longer than 16 hours a week. Much of this research suggests that the more hours students work, the less likely they are to do well in their courses.
But a survey at the University of Canberra found that the students who gained the best marks in their exams had spent ten to 12 hours a week in work. Students whose jobs caused them to miss classes were the only ones to do worse than the minority who did not have paid employment.
In a paper discussing their findings, economists Craig Applegate and Anne Daly say that more than 75 per cent of Canberra students have part-time jobs. For nearly 60 per cent, these earnings are the main source of income.
The researchers say that working students tend to cut back on leisure time rather than study time. It was these part-time workers who scored higher grades than their friends who kept their heads in their books on campus.
"There appears to be an optimal amount of paid employment for students with a full-time load," the researchers conclude. "Doing some paid employment actually helps grades, perhaps by encouraging good time-management skills [although] paid employment for long hours per week has a small but negative effect on average marks."
Second and third-year students were surveyed earlier this year about their work and study habits in the previous semester. These were checked against the marks they received at the end of 2002.
"Paid employment may detract from the university experience, but it does not seem to have a substantial negative effect on results," the researchers write.
The Canberra study highlights a huge change among university students over the past 20 years. A majority now must work to meet expenses, and they spend ever more time at work rather than on campus. At Canberra, 77 per cent of this year's students had part-time jobs, and they worked an average of 21 hours a week. Two decades ago, fewer than half of Australia's university full-time students were in paid employment during each semester, and the average time they spent at work was only five hours a week.