Final year students 'forced to work'

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The Independent Online

Debt and living costs are forcing university students to work during their final year at university, a study found today.

Research commissioned by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit found that students in their third year were much more likely to find a job than those in their first year.

The Futuretrack study is following 50,000 university students from completing their UCAS application to getting their first job.

The latest report, which is the third in the series, shows that nearly eight in 10 final-year students (78.2%) work, with 42.8% of these working during holidays and term time.

In comparison, just over two-thirds (67.8%) worked during their first year of university.

Meeting essential living costs was the most common reason for choosing to work during term time of their final year - chosen by 84% of those questioned.

Around eight in 10 (79%) said they worked to meet the cost of leisure activities and 66% needed to meet the cost of books and study materials.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of final year students said they were working to avoid debt - though this had fallen slightly from the 67% who said they were working for this reason in their first year.

One student told researchers she was "extremely overdrawn for the last one and a half years and my bursary and part-time work does not pay for all the bills, mortgage etc".

Another said: "A student loan only goes so far. Once rent and bills have been paid for, I found myself with little money left to actually live on.

"Having not come from a wealthy family where the parents pay for everything (as is the case with my housemates), I'm proud of the fact that I earn a wage and live independently."

On average, the students questioned expected to have an average debt of £15,700 on graduation, the report found.

Men expect to have higher debt levels than women, with a quarter (25%) of women saying they expected their debt to be zero or less than £10,000, compared with 21% of men.

Almost a third (31%) of those questioned said they expected to owe £20,000 or more.

HECSU research director Jane Artess, said: "We expected students to cut down the time they spend working in their final year, but this is not the case.

"Not only are we finding that these students are more likely to work than in their first year, but the hours they spend have also increased. Average hours of paid work per week for women rose from eight to more than 12 hours, while men worked just over 13 hours, nearly five hours more than in their first year.

"Already we have found that this is having a detrimental effect on their university experience, a situation that isn't likely to improve for this year's finalists as debt continues to stack up."