Lessons at the school of waiting tables: Working while studying

Rising fees are forcing more students into part-time working while they study. David Robotham reports

The number of full-time higher education students with part-time jobs rose by 54 per cent, to 630,778, between 1996 and 2006, according to the Trades Union Congress. It is not easy, however, to be certain about the scale of part-time employment as there is no formal requirement for institutions to record how many students are working to make ends meet.

But what does it mean for their studies? Evidence suggests that there are potential benefits to be gained, such as enhanced employability through the acquisition of work-related skills. But there is also evidence that negative consequences ensue. Students say they spend less time studying, miss classes or arrive late, and have fewer hours for recreation.

Evidence of more serious consequences, such as late submission of assessments, failing classes or dropping out of university altogether, is cited less frequently in research findings.

Official guidance suggests that students should devote no more than 20 hours a week to part-time work, though the rationale behind this limit is not always clear. But researchers are increasingly finding that individuals are spending as much time, and in some cases significantly more, at work than in the lecture room. This begins to question the notion of the fulltime student, and raises the issue of how “full” is full-time? If a student is funded on the principle that engagement in higher education is the central element of their activities, what happens when studying is relegated to a secondary activity, in terms of hours?

If students no longer satisfy the criteria required to be classed as full-time, will funding to the sector be reduced even further?

A second issue is the implication of an expanding part-time student workforce for those who champion widening participation – an issue gaining even more currency given the impending tripling of student fees. Under the existing funding regime, financial pressures are most often cited as the driver towards term-time working. As the financial burden shifts further on to students’ shoulders, it seems reasonable to contend that patterns of student employment will only increase.

This may have negative consequences for academic study, and precipitate a decline in participation by students from the socio-economic groups targeted by initiatives aimed at widening participation.

There is also an important policy consideration for higher-education providers about how they respond to full-time undergraduates for whom hours spent in jobs may be greater than hours spent studying. A simple solution might be to revisit existing financial-support packages, and to factor in an element that takes into account potential pressures to carry out term-time employment. A more contentious proposal is that universities consider revising the typical full-time timetable to a pattern more conducive to parttime employment: for example, offering evening classes.

Until now, however, most commentators have avoided the elephant in the room when talking about student employment – social class. While some say we have increasingly shifted towards a meritocratic society, this somewhat idealistic view glosses over the realities of higher education.

The student term-time workforce will perhaps continue to be divided into those want to work part-time and those who need to.

David Robotham is a lecturer in organisational behaviour at De Montfort University in Leicester

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk