Survey finds it's all work, less play for the top-up generation

In determination to earn top degrees, students now socialise less, writes Rebecca Attwood

September 11, 2008

Getting a good degree result is the number-one concern for today's students, according to an exclusive poll of 2,000 full-time undergraduates.

In the first Sodexo-Times Higher Education University Lifestyle Survey since the introduction of top-up tuition fees, 70 per cent of students polled said they were worried about achieving the degree classification they wanted, up from 57 per cent when the last survey was carried out, two years ago.

Academic achievement is also rated the biggest worry by the highest proportion of students (29 per cent), ahead of balancing academic, social and work commitments (16 per cent) and day-to-day financial concerns (13 per cent).

It appears that few who go to university are driven principally by passion for their subject - for most students, going to university is mainly about getting a job.

For 9 per cent of undergraduates, the main reason was for them to specialise in a particular area, and a further 9 per cent were motivated primarily by the desire for a deeper knowledge of a subject.

The most-mentioned incentive for going to university, and the most significant for 23 per cent of students, is the impact having a degree will have on their job opportunities. Another 22 per cent said the deciding factor was the need for a degree to pursue a particular profession.

Studying hard?

On an average weekday, 15 per cent of students spend five hours or more on independent study - but nearly a quarter spend no more than one hour studying beyond the timetable. Forty-eight per cent of students study outside lectures, seminars and lab time for two to three hours a day.

Having few contact hours does necessarily equate to more hours spent poring over books.

Sixty-three per cent of social science students say they spend two hours or less on private study, and 49 per cent of arts and humanities students agree. In contrast, lawyers are most likely to spend more time studying independently.

Paid employment

A third of full time students (33 per cent) are also devoting their time to paid work, juggling a part-time term-time job alongside their studies, with the proportion in this position rising from 31 per cent in 2006.

Worryingly, 2 per cent of students manage to hold down a full-time term-time job during their full-time degree courses.

Almost half of students with a job in term-time undertake paid work for between 11 and 20 hours a week, and 10 per cent devote between 21 and 30 hours a week to their job.


Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: "This is a very interesting survey, which shows how the stereotypical view of students spending all their time drinking in the union bar is well wide of the mark.

"Only 15 per cent of students devote five hours or more of their day to their social life - this is because very often they are juggling the demands of their course with a job in order to stave off debt.

"Given the increasing emphasis on higher education as a utilitarian pathway for success in the world of work, not to mention the pressure to pay off debts, it is not surprising that students are ever more concerned about their degree classification," he added. "We know that many graduate employers continue to hold a short-sighted obsession about where students study and whether they've hit the 2:1 threshold."

There also appear to be some rather interesting differences between students at old and new universities.

According to the survey, 31 per cent of students at old universities go to university to please their parents, compared with 17 per cent in new universities.

Social life is important for 35 per cent, against 26 per cent in modern institutions.

Students at old universities are also more likely to attend in order to put off getting a job - this is the case for per cent compared with 19 per cent at new ones.

Those at old universities are less likely to have a term-time job, but despite this they are more likely to miss lectures - 13 per cent skipped 11 or more last term, compared with 6 per cent at new universities.


There has been a dramatic drop in the number of hours students spend socialising, the UK-wide poll has revealed.

Two years ago, seeing friends was the biggest event in the student day, with 44 per cent of students devoting five hours or more on a typical weekday to their social life.

Now only 15 per cent of students spend this much time with friends.

Almost a third of students say they spend one hour or less socialising each day, and almost six in ten students spend £20 or less each week on their social life.

Nearly half of students say they do not read for pleasure during the average weekday, but 41 per cent pick up an extracurricular book for an hour a day, and 10 per cent do so for two hours.

More students - 40 per cent - watch television for two to three hours a day, and 3 per cent devote more than five hours a day to the television screen.


Online social networking has become a significant part of university life - and some students seem to be addicted.

A massive 88 per cent of students use social-networking sites every week, and for 9 per cent of students this takes up a significant chunk of their time - 11 to 20 hours.

Lecturers may not be thrilled to hear that 12 per cent have posted comments about their university or a tutor on a website between two and five times. Eight per cent have done so once, and 6 per cent have posted their views more than five times.

The internet is also an important source of information when it comes to choosing a university.

Eighty-five per cent of students consulted a university's website when they were researching where to apply; almost a third did a Google search of the institution and more than one in ten looked at social-networking sites.

Four per cent read students' blogs and 3 per cent read blogs written by university staff and lecturers.


Students are becoming increasingly detached from campus life, the results of the survey suggest.

It seems that for a growing number of students, university is only a place to visit for lectures and seminars, rather than to socialise or do private study.

There has been a significant change in the proportion of students whose social life takes place away from the university. Instead of whiling away the hours in the union bar, the percentage who do most or all of their socialising off campus has risen from 44 per cent two years ago to 67 per cent.

Similarly, most students - 63 per cent - do the majority of their studying in their own accommodation rather than in the library. Ninety-one per cent of students spend ten hours or less in the library or resource centre in a typical week, and 12 per cent of students do not use the library at all.

Life is perhaps least centred around the campus for students who live with their parents or family: this is 19 per cent in new universities and 7 per cent in traditional universities. The vast majority (84 per cent) of this group also socialise off campus most or all of the time. More of this cohort has a part-time job during term time - 49 per cent.

Sally Burrows, associate dean at the University of Bradford's School of Management, said the fact that large numbers of students are living at home, spending considerable time travelling to and from their universities, and working to fund their studies, is leading to a "disconnect" with the university.

Sadly, one third of all students report having felt isolated at some point during their time at university, and 6 per cent say feeling isolated is their biggest worry.

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