More than half of UK students work long hours in paid work

More than half of full-time students work long hours in jobs to support themselves at university, spending almost two days a week in paid work during term time, due to the cost of living crisis.

A survey of 10,000 full-time UK students by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that a record 56% were in paid employment while studying, working an average of 14.5 hours each week.

Experts said the lack of maintenance support was creating a two-tiered higher education system, with a growing divide between students who must work long hours to survive while their better peers are free to focus on their studies and improve their grades.

When combined with time spent attending lectures, classes and other studies, part-time students have an average 48-hour work week during term time, with some working 56-hour weeks, far more than the 36.6-hour average for adults in full time job. , according to the National Statistics Office.

Rose Stephenson, Hepis policy director, said the traditional model of higher education, with students studying full-time away from home, was becoming unattainable unless support for student retention was improved.

Stephenson said: As students struggle with the cost of living, the trend around part-time work becomes more worrying. Most students work and the number of hours they work is increasing, and if this trend continues, full-time study may become impossible for many.

The UK prides itself on its traditional full-time residential study model for many students, with high completion rates. There is a possibility that without intervention, the model of higher education could accidentally evolve into a two-tier system based on who can afford to attend university.

The cost of living crisis suddenly changed the proportion of students mixing paid employment and full-time study. Before 2021, approximately two-thirds of students did not have paid work in term. But this year, 56% of students said they were in paid employment and working more than students in previous years.

Three-quarters of those in work said they did so to meet their living costs, while 23% also said they worked to provide financial support for friends or family.

For many students, paid employment isn’t a choice, it’s something they have to do, Stephenson said.

Chart student employment

Students on intensive courses, such as veterinary studies and dentistry, averaged 56 hours a week of study and paid employment, while 80% of students who had been looked after worked in part-time jobs.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said many working students are now in the risk zone identified by previous research, with higher dropout rates and reduced chances of gaining first-class degrees.

I think that’s already a problem, Hillman said, adding that a dual system was developing between graduate students who can afford to enjoy the traditional college experience, including extracurricular activities and sports, and those for whom paid work it should be first.

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Students working part-time were also more likely to use artificial intelligence (AI) software and more likely to watch their lectures online. Of those who did not have paid work, a third said it was because they could not find a suitable job. Only 23% said it was because they didn’t need to work.

The National Union of Students (NUS) said in a new report that the proportion of students using food banks had doubled as the cost of living crisis worsened. In the 2023-24 academic year, 14% of students told NUS they had used a food bank, compared to 7% in 2021-22.

Chloe Field, NUS vice-president for higher education, said: “Students are not only cutting back on food, but they are working almost full-time on top of their already full-time studies, leaving them exhausted and unable to devote the appropriate time and energy. for our studies.

The effects of chronic underfunding of students are complex, but the solutions are simple: reintroduce maintenance grants that meet the true cost of living, increase maintenance loans and make students eligible for universal credit.

Hillman said students were now spending more time on their studies each week than when the survey was first asked in 2016, dispelling the myth that students were snowflakes.

Despite their extra workload, 39% of students said their course was good value for money, as satisfaction levels rebounded from lows seen during the Covid pandemic.

Just 26% of students said their course was poor value for money, the lowest percentage for a decade. Helpi said the improvement was driven by higher satisfaction among international students.

Hillman, a former special adviser to Tory higher education ministers, said the Tory manifesto pledge to close low-value university courses in England and divert students into practical careers was futile, for so many reasons.

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