Optimism is high, skill low

January 23, 2004

While most students are optimistic about their job prospects after graduation, few believe they have developed good business skills while at university, according to the Unite Student Living Report, writes Alison Utley.

Levels of optimism about careers vary between groups. More male students in the survey are strongly optimistic about their future careers than females.

International students are likely to believe they have good job prospects, and more science students tend towards strong optimism than arts students (41 per cent against 32 per cent).

But the survey reveals that despite more than three-quarters of students agreeing that university has stood them in good stead for working life, few finalists feel their degree has equipped them with the skills demanded by today's employers.

Less than a third of respondents believe they have the necessary information technology and office skills, while just 14 per cent think they have good business sense. Yet, 41 per cent said they were able to analyse complex issues and possessed good presentation and report-writing skills.

Students towards the end of their studies tend to believe they have acquired the softer skills needed for employment such as confidence and the ability to work under pressure and with others. The survey found that four in ten work during term time to fund their university studies, averaging 14 hours a week and earning £83.

The most popular student jobs are in retail, bar work and catering. A small number of students are using skills learnt at university to earn money in jobs such as nursing.

The survey found the majority of students work because they have to. Almost 70 per cent said they worked because they needed the money for essentials, and a third said they could not manage on a student loan.

A large minority of working students believe that earning during term time adversely affects their studies (41 per cent), but this is balanced by an equal number who believe the opposite to be true (40 per cent). Some 59 per cent see such work as a positive experience and enjoy it.

Students also said they were gaining extra skills, in particular time management, which they thought would be useful in future. More than half agreed that their work experience would help them get a full-time job after graduation.

Despite the fact that most students feel their tutors and lecturers understand their need to work, few students (19 per cent) have received any help and advice from their university either in balancing work and course commitments or in choosing suitable employment in the first place.

Jonathan Benn, managing director of the WorkBank said: "Unite's survey shows that students believe many universities are not supporting them when it comes to finding and undertaking work during term time, despite the fact that part-time work has become a fundamental part of the university experience.

"There has been a significant shift in the reasons students work, with more working to pay for essentials."

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