Majority of university students work through summer amid fears over tuition fees and graduate job competition

Survey comes in a summer which has seen tuition fees rise, a retrospective student loan hike and maintenance grants turn into loans for England's poorest students

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Thursday 04 August 2016 11:44 BST
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Student feel they're losing out on valuable winding down time as fees soar and the graduate job market gets increasingly competitive
Student feel they're losing out on valuable winding down time as fees soar and the graduate job market gets increasingly competitive (Burger/Phanie/REX Shutterstock)

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The majority of students are losing their summer to worry over getting work experience because of higher education costs and greater competition for graduate jobs, a new survey has found.

Almost four in five students - 79 per cent - said that, compared to previous generations, they are under more pressure than ever to spend their prized break in employment - and that’s only if they can find it.

The survey*, from specialist student loan lender Future Finance, found just over a quarter feel they need to work to gain much-needed experience, as 24 per cent feel forced to work simply to make ends meet and “pay for everyday living expenses.” A further 17 per cent have been working this summer to cover next year’s living expenses.

Almost half said they expect to save between £500 and £2,000 to put towards fees or living costs. At the typical hourly rate of just £6 to £8 an hour that over half of students - 57 per cent - expect to earn, this suggests that at least 83 hours of pay will have to be put aside to meet the £500 target. To reach the £2,000, students would need to put aside over 333 hours’ worth of wages. Startlingly, 17 per cent say they will be working 31 to 40 hour a week, and a further quarter say they will be working just under that at 21 to 30 hours.

One second year psychology student told the study the summer break is a priority for her to gain work experience that will help her future career. However, she said: “But it can be tough finding work that’s relevant to your degree, in your area, pays okay, and is temporary or short-term. So many jobs demand very particular experience, or they tend to be permanent roles, which a student obviously can’t take on. So it feels like there is really strong competition for the few jobs that are an ideal fit.”

Brian Norton, CEO of Future Finance, described how summer is evolving into an “increasingly important” time for students, and said: “It’s very worrying so many students could lose out on their entire summer, a period traditionally associated with play and winding down after a tough academic year, because of the cost pressures they now feel.

“There’s no doubt students are facing a more competitive work environment these days. Relevant, interesting summer work on a CV makes it a lot easier to get noticed when applying for jobs after graduation. But it’s equally important they get enough rest and downtime, so they can start their next university year energised and focused on their studies.”

The survey has come during an intense summer which has seen rising costs and cuts associated with higher education. The Government has already confirmed plans to increase university tuition fees above £9,000 for the next academic year, despite staunch protests from academics, students, and MPs.

A recent parliamentary debate on a retrospective student loan hike also heard how the Tories have “maxed out the nation’s credit card” with students and graduates now being left to “foot the bill.” The debate was triggered following mass outrage when the Government made a U-turn on a 2012 promise by freezing the student loan repayment threshold at £21,000, meaning graduates are now being forced to pay back more on their loans than originally promised.

And, this week, the Tories have faced fresh criticism as university maintenance grants were replaced with loans for half a million of England’s poorest students, a move the NUS labelled “disgraceful,” adding how it “basically punishes poorer students simply for being poor.”

More than a third of students told Future Finance in a separate study in May they are worrying about their finances to such an extent that it is affecting their mental health. Findings showed how 38 per cent are considering work that could affect their wellbeing, including shift or night work and medical trials. Other work cited was that related to the sex industry, including pornographic webcam shows, nude modelling, escorting, stripping, or working on chat lines.

*Future Finance commissioned The Big Choice Group, owners of The National Student, to survey 2,000 of its 600,000 student members

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