Six out of 10 students are forced to take term-time jobs

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The Independent Online

Adrienne Gammie's coursework is suffering. The 20-year-old student would like to spend a bit more time in the library pursuing her psychology degree. Instead she spends much of the week in a bar. Not that she's drinking or socialising. She's working there flat out - 16 hours a week - to make ends meet and keep her student debts to a reasonable level.

Adrienne is typical. A new report, by the influential Institute for Economic and Social Research, reveals that six out of 10 university students are being forced to take part-time jobs during term-time. The hours spent working in bars, restaurants and supermarkets are having a devastating impact on their studies.

The research shows that students are working up to 30 hours a week, and that work is leading to widespread inequality in higher education because those from poorer backgrounds are having to work the most.

Term-time work is so vital for many undergraduates that there is now a "Safeway factor", where students are picking their university not just on its academic pedigree, but on the availability of local jobs too, says the report.

Researchers who carried out the study warn of the dangers of a class divide in universities, with better-off students going to high-status universities with low rates of term-time working, and the poor attending the lower-ranked universities where term-time working is becoming more accepted.

The research shows that it is the sons and daughters of poorer families who are being affected the most.

"This increase in term-time employment is of major importance because of its potential impact on the nature and effectiveness of higher education and on equality of provision of higher education," says senior research fellow Hilary Metcalf, who led the research reported in the Oxford Review of Education. "Term-time working appears to reinforce disadvantage, with students from lower social classes more likely to work."

To investigate the amount of work undertaken by students, the researchers looked at four unnamed universities, chosen to represent the range of levels of higher education - an old and a new university with high entry requirements, and an old and a new university with relatively low requirements. Students were then quizzed about their work, background and studies.

The results show that 46 per cent of students worked during term time, compared with 25 per cent in studies carried out less than a decade ago.

They also found that the amount of working varied widely between the four universities. Only 27 per cent of students at the highest-status university had a job during the term, compared with 60 per cent in the lowest-ranked university, who also worked longer hours - up to 30 a week.

The results also show that 40 per cent of students at the lowest-status university worked every week, compared with only 13 per cent at the highest-status college.

Around eight out of 10 working students across all four universities said that working affected their studies.

Ms Metcalf said: "Our findings suggest that the increase in term-time working will exacerbate differences in academic achievement between universities."

Dan Ashley, spokesman for the National Union of Students, said, "These are the very students that everyone says they are trying to get into universities. They have no family background of going to university and yet we make them struggle the most ... It heightens the gulf between the haves and the have-nots on campus."

'I missed getting a first because of my jobs'

Ria Newham, 21, a postgraduate modern history student at Leeds University, works 12 hours a week at a video rental shop for £4 an hour.

"I was working about 30 hours a week last year when I was an undergraduate. I missed a first by a tiny margin because of my jobs - I don't want that to happen this year.

"This year I've taken out a large bank loan and left my other job so that I can focus on the course. But I may have to get a bar job too - I'll see how things go.

"I've never missed a lecture, but it was difficult to meet deadlines - I just didn't have enough time to do my core reading."

David Winstanley, 20, a second- year geology and physical geography student at Liverpool University, does marketing for a credit card company. He works two six-hour shifts a week, earning a basic £5 an hour plus commission.

"My course has lots of hidden costs. I've just come back from a two-week field trip in Ireland, which cost £200 - the university doesn't pay for it.

"The student loan just goes on my fees, rent and bills. My rent is £45 a week, then there are textbooks and travel- I've just spent £117 on a bus pass. It all affects how much I can get involved in the students' union - I've got less time to campaign against top-up fees."

Stella Williams, 20, a second-year medical biology student at Brunel University has kept her Saturday job as editorial assistant with The Independent on Sunday but last week gave up her 13-hour-a-week job at Tesco.

"The university understands we have to have jobs. If we have to do extra lab work they'll ask us first if we can do it.

"I could never survive on the student loan. Rent in London is expensive - then there are bills, food and travel. Then you've got to clothe yourself and hopefully go out and enjoy yourself. I might go back to Tesco but I'm not doing 13 hours again - it would exhaust me."

Steve Bloomfield