Job scene sways choice

July 12, 2002

The high cost of university life throughout the world is pushing more students into term-time jobs. The THES reports on some enterprising ways to raise cash.

Officially, business degree student Andrew Urquhart works just ten hours a week in term time. "But that excludes preparation and travel time - the ten hours is just what I get paid for," he said. "In fact, my paid work knocks whole days out of my week."

Mr Urquhart has just finished his final exams at Oxford Brookes University. He chose the university because it was local, had a good name for business - and he knew he could get work in the area.

He has specialised in human resources, and the work he has chosen reflects this. He helps to manage school visits and higher education fairs - a key part of the university's widening access campaign. He describes himself as a senior ambassador for the university. His pay is about £6 to £7 an hour.

"I've worked to stay out of debt to credit card companies and banks," he said. "I've never approached the university for a bursary because I felt I could manage and that others needed hardship monies more."

Research from Essex University suggests that students are becoming so reliant on paid work that universities in areas of poor employment may find it hard to attract applicants.

Mike Nicholson, head of undergraduate admissions and student recruitment at Essex, said: "For the past few years, we have canvassed students about why they chose Essex - and about why they didn't. Originally, students never mentioned job centres or student employment services - now they feature prominently."

Last year, 1,500 students who did not take up offers at Essex were asked why. Just over a fifth (360) replied, and lack of local job opportunities came seventh out of 12 in a list of priorities. "Just over 5.5 per cent listed it as a reason for choosing not to come to Essex," Mr Nicholson said.

Olwen Gorie, manager of the student employment service in Edinburgh, said that the opportunity to find work was a major concern for students from disadvantaged areas Paul Cullinan, manager of the student employment service at Liverpool University, said: "We have more students than job vacancies, which is the complete opposite of down south. But it is still the course that attracts students first and foremost, and we don't believe the university is disadvantaged by the local employment situation."

January's Unite Student Living report, based on a MORI survey, found that 43 per cent of students worked in term time, up from 30 per cent in the previous year.

Individual student employment services, however, believe the percentage is nearer 60 per cent. Ms Gorie said: "Out of 20,000 Edinburgh University students, 7,000 are registered with us - but we know a high percentage find work independently."

Janet Dickerson, head of student employment services at Essex, said: "When we first opened our job centre in 1996-97, 500 students walked through the door. This year the figure is 2,000."

The NUS says that the figures mask the extent to which a small group of students is forced to work more and more hours to afford university is affected.

In an unpublished report, analysing yet further her 2000 study on student finances for the Department for Education and Skills, Claire Callender, professor of social policy at South Bank University, found that 13 per cent of students worked 20 hours a week or more. The fieldwork was conducted in 1998-99 - before loans had fully replaced maintenance grants.

A survey of 500 full-time students at Edinburgh in 2000-01 found 14 per cent working more than 15 hours a week.

Ms Gorie said: "We consider that excessive... It is bound to affect their academic studies as the academic system is not set up to enable this amount of paid work."

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