Higher education institutions are failing to recognise the reality of the majority of their students working part-time during term.
This message came from a Napier University conference sponsored by the Department for Education and Employment.
Newman Smith, a specialist in student employment from Glasgow Caledonian University, called for the reintroduction of a student grant at a level that would remove the compulsion on students to work excessive part-time hours. Research carried out with colleagues at Stirling and Strathclyde universities shows that the percentage of students missing lectures and coursework rises dramatically for those working 20 hours or more.
But data that they drew up from 1997 reveals how crucial students are to the workforce: Sainsbury employed almost ,000 students and Tesco 10,000. Students make up 60 per cent of Pizza Hut's restaurant crew.
Audrey McCulloch of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Service said:
"Why is this often called work experience? It's serious employment, and a serious contribution to employment in this country."
She praised the emergence of student employment services in institutions but said few were well funded. John Sander of Sussex University's student employment service said they should be able to influence the local labour market by shortlisting candidates and notifying students of vacancies.
Norman Sharp, head of the Quality Assurance Agency's Scottish office, urged institutions to escape from the "mindset" of three and four-year degrees to allow more flexible learning. "If we work in full-time equivalent student numbers, we think in FTEs and end up teaching FTEs," he said. Institutions should talk about levels and credit rather than years.