Students 'choose jobs over classes'

Term-time clash: New study says desire for good times, not financial hardship, is causing dramatic rise in part-time work
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The Independent Online
Increasing numbers of students are under-performing academically because they have part-time jobs during term time. However, according to a senior academic at the London School of Economics (LSE), they spend their earnings not on the basic necessities of food and rent but on "luxury items" such as pounds 70 trainers and alcohol.

The National Union of Students (NUS), which found in a survey last year that students in higher education were taking up part-time work and damaging their studies in the process, is angered by Dr Catherine Hakim's suggestion that the reason for this is not financial hardship.

Dr Hakim, who enraged feminist academics earlier this year with her claim that women were still happy for their place to be in the home, publishes her research on students and employment today, just days after the LSE became the first higher education establishment to announce that it agreed in principle to increase student fees following government grant cuts.

The number of British students with part-time jobs has doubled over the last decade, she says. Between 1984 and 1994 those with part-time jobs jumped from 343,000 to 671,000 and from 7 per cent to 11 per cent of the workforce. She argues that the main reason for this dramatic rise is not financial, but social and cultural.

Her findings are the result of a two-year study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and based on an analysis of the 1991 Population Census results and the Labour Force Survey for 1984-1994. The jobs were mainly in catering, sales and other service jobs such as cleaners and shelf-fillers in supermarkets. They were typically eight hours a week, earning pounds 3-4 an hour.

White students, she reports, are almost twice as likely as those from ethnic minorities, particularly Chinese and Asian, to undertake paid work while in full-time education. From the fact that 79 per cent of non-white students have never held a job compared with 65 per cent of white students, and only 4 per cent of ethnic minority students had a current job compared with 24 per cent of white students, she concludes that working students are not more likely to come from poorer families.

Rather, she argues, any differences must lie in their attitudes to work, money and education. "Ethnic minority groups generally are less well off than the dominant white community, yet they are more likely to ensure that their children devote themselves exclusively to their studies," she writes. "Separate cultures which protect them to some degree from the dominant white consumer culture probably helps in this process."

Dr Hakim interprets the rising workrates among young people of 16- 18 at secondary schools and in higher education as further evidence that the "new trend" has causes "far wider than a simple reduction in student grant".

Commenting on her paper, she said: "It is quite clear that some people accept that you live in reduced circumstances while you are a student while others don't accept the view of a slightly ascetic life ... The quantity of money that passes the bar never ceases to amaze me ... Asians drink far less. Chinese drink far less. It's directly relevant to the cultural argument."

The NUS said: "We dispute any suggestion that students don't go out to work from financial necessity. Our survey clearly shows that in so many cases students are going out to work just to pay the rent. Often students are working just to eat."

More help than hindrance

PART-TIME JOB

Annika Bosanquet, 22, has worked an average of 11 hours a week for pounds 4.21 an hour throughout her time as an anthropology undergraduate at the London School of Economics.

Tipped for a 2:1 degree, Annika, from Newcastle upon Tyne, feels that her part-time jobs in the student union helped, rather than hindered, her academic work.

"If you do something totally different it fuels your studies. Otherwise I would have spent the time walking around having cups of coffee," said Annika.

Her parents give her pounds 500 a month to cover pounds 65-a-week rent plus living costs; the pounds 35 wages supplement her social life and clothes budget.

"I'm quite a picky shopper," explained Annika. "I don't just buy clothes whenever. I spend a lot of money on one piece and then make it last. We're talking designer clothes - in the sale."

In her final year, her earnings went towards going out - perhaps to a football match or a pounds 15-pounds 20 meal - rather than clothes. "I think that because I'm living in London and there's so much to do I should take advantage of it," she explained.

"A lot of people I know have a couple of really big nights out in the week which would cost them pounds 60 a night. I prefer to have quite a few nights out and not spend that much but once every couple of months I'll go out for a big night.

"That means going out for a drink and a meal, a taxi fare, the entrance fee to a club, and drinks when you are in there. If you're buying something new as well, it's pounds 100."

Keeping worry to a minimum

NOTHING BUT STUDY

To Mankash Jain, a second-year management student at the LSE, working and studying are "two totally different things". His parents go to great lengths to ensure he never has to take a part-time job which, they believe, would conflict with his degree.

"It's not the same as spoonfeeding or cushioning. It's making sure I don't have anything to worry about except for the work," said Mankash, 22, from Birmingham, whose parents pay his pounds 70-a-week rent plus a weekly living allowance of pounds 60.

"Asians place much more emphasis on learning. I was brought up with the idea that if you go to university you should concentrate and direct your attention to studying.

"It's the mentality that you're at university to work and if you do work properly you will get a better job and that will pay dividends later on."

Another reason Mankash, a Hindu, is "in pocket", he says, is that he doesn't drink much.

"I do drink, but not on a regular basis. It's the way I've been brought up. None of my family drinks.

"The majority of students' money is spent on drink. Some people can easily spend up to pounds 200 in a week on buying drinks for themselves and their friends."

Mankash has never run into debt or taken out a loan while studying. "I am a lot more careful with my money," he explained. "White students seem to spend a lot of money on drink and be a lot more carefree at university. I'm not saying it's wrong or anything. There's just a distinction."

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