It's just a hard life being a student in the 1990s

Mark Rowe on those who work to pay to learn
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The Independent Online
THOUGH many students claim to doze off during a boring lecture, Taz Azeez would have more excuse than most. For when he attends morning classes at Chilterns University in High Wycombe, he has often come straight from a night of work as a security guard in west London.

Three nights a week Taz, aged 21, works from 7pm to 7am for a security firm, earning pounds 5 an hour. In a month he earns around pounds 600 after tax. He is one of a burgeoning number of students working around the clock in order to fund their studies.

A recent survey for the GMB union and the National Union of Students established that 40 per cent of full-time students work to boost their income, with nine per cent of these working more than 21 hours a week and that few get paid for long or anti-social hours. A further 73 per cent work more than eight hours a week, while 59 per cent have worked late at night. "I do it for the money, though I don't need to earn as much as I do," said Taz, who is in the second year of his degree in Product Design and Manufacture. "I get a grant of pounds 1,700 a year. That doesn't even cover my rent, which is pounds 200 a month."

The work is routine: sitting at a desk in Staines or Epsom in Surrey. "You can be fairly tired the following day and there comes a stage where you want to sleep," he said. "But you can get by on a few hours sleep over a week. Sometimes when I'm driving back on the motorway in the morning I ask myself why I do it."

There is an unexpected bonus in working at night, he suggested. "I do get a lot of my studying done."

The GMB union said that Taz's case "was not a one-off". According to the union, 750,000 students in full-time education also work, earning an average of pounds 3.38 an hour. According to the GMB, two-thirds who work during term time feel it affects their studies. The GMB is also anxious that a recommendation on the minimum wage by the Low Pay Commission could propose that students qualify for only 85 per cent of the new minimum wage. The union says this would cost a student pounds 1,000 a year.

The NUS said greater numbers of students were working longer hours in order to fund their studies. "They're having to go to work at night or skip lectures to earn money," said a spokeswoman. "The maximum loans are not sufficient. We don't mind the fact that grants are being phased out as long as more money is made available for loans," she said.