Student finance: Working keeps debt at bay

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The Independent Online
The option of working while a student is one that for some is becoming a necessity rather than an option. With the abolition of maintenance grants, the introduction of tuition fees and the steady rise in student debt, more undergraduates than ever are being forced to do part-time work in order to make ends meet.

The average student owes pounds 4,000 by the time they graduate. Keeping debt to a minimum by working can be essential in some cases, as it partially relieves the stress of having to find work and repay money borrowed while studying.

A National Union of Students (NUS) spokesperson said the union was concerned that a high percentage of students work over the 15 hours a week guideline set by the Government. "Our surveys indicate that students are working very unsociable hours in bars, restaurants and clubs. This is leaving them tired and stressed and is having a detrimental affect on their studies."

A 1998 NUS survey found 40 per cent of students employed in term time and two-thirds of those questioned said their employment affected their studies.

Finian Davern worked in a restaurant while at Oxford. "There were difficulties attached to having to work. My grant was insufficient to live on and, as my parents couldn't support me, I had to work evenings regardless of how much course work I had to do.

"There are positive aspects to working while at university. I appreciate the fact that I got through it with minimal debts. Now I look back on that time with a sense of pride; it made me a stronger person."

For others it does not pose too great a problem. Christopher Delooze studied geography at Leeds University, and had eight hours of lectures and tutorials a week. This left him free to do 24 hours work a week.

"It didn't affect my course, although I think my tutors would have been a little concerned had they known about my job. I tried to get vocational work, but this was very difficult and most firms don't pay any money as there's so much competition among undergraduates. Working for nothing is seen as a way to get ahead."

Businesses often take on a number of undergraduates each summer for up to three months, which allows students to get an idea of whether they actually like the discipline they are thinking of pursuing. Showing initiative in getting such work makes students appear more employable and looks good on their CV.

Garry Bryan spent a summer working for Geest plc while studying at Humberside University. "I showed them what I could do and they really liked the enthusiasm I had. It gave me a chance to work in a professional environment and see if I wanted to go into marketing. The end result of that summer was that they offered me a job after I graduated. I accepted the offer, and have been happy here for the last three years."

Even if the work is not so vocational, it certainly helps to cut the amount of debt students get themselves into. Farms and factories regularly employ what is seen as cheap, casual labour for the summer season.

For those with a taste for foreign cultures, there are several schemes offering students the chance to work abroad. Organisations such as BUNAC (British Universities North America Club) will arrange everything, including accommodation, travel and work: students pay for their flights and a nominal administration fee. While not being the best way to pay off debts, you won't incur any more, and they provide a rare chance to work in places such as the US that are normally extremely difficult to obtain working visas for.

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