TV Editor Kylie Clarke assesses the benefits and disadvantages of part-time employment throughout university

TV Editor. MA Language, Culture and Communication.

For a full-time university student, the pressure of attending all of your lectures and seminars and partaking in your own additional studies while managing everyday tasks and attempting to maintain a social life, can already feel too difficult to balance. When you add a part-time job on top of this, creating a balance can almost feel impossible. However, for some students, they do not have the luxury of being able to not work; it is a necessity.

I personally have had a part-time job since the beginning of my second year and am now doing my Masters degree. If I were to say that working while being a student has not affected my studies, I would be lying. For the majority of students that I have encountered, lack of finances and money management, particularly while living alone and paying high rent prices, is one of the biggest worries. A 2022 Save the Student survey states that 82% of students worry about making ends meet, with the average student spending £924 per month. This is exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. Is this then a failure on the government’s part or is this unavoidable?

82% of students worry about making ends meet

I am not suggesting that having a job while at university is an entirely negative thing. In many ways, working while studying can contribute to a sense of fulfilment and life experience. Working a job in food service has helped me to develop my people interpersonal skills and organisation, as well as the opportunity to meet and interact with all different types of people, which has done wonders for my teamwork skills. I now find the idea of entering the professional world after I have completed my masters a lot less daunting.  Having a job while at university has made me learn how to manage my time wisely to fit my studies in around my job.

However, the fact that it has become necessary for me to try to ‘fit my studies in around my job’ when it should be the other way round is part of the problem. Keeping my degree as my top priority while trying to financially support myself and save for the future, particularly in this climate where career prospects for graduates are not guaranteed, is proving difficult.

The amount of students who have jobs nowadays is constantly increasing, with the 2022 Save the Student survey determining that 55% of students have jobs, a large increase in comparison to the 45% of students 12 months prior to the survey. This demonstrates the fact that students have money worries and feel the need to shift their focus away from their studies to support themself.

Helped me to develop my people interpersonal skills and organisation, as well as the opportunity to meet and interact with all different types of people

However, this is not a positive thing for most, as the 2023 Student Academic Experience Survey suggests that students in employment are more likely to consider leaving their course, stating that, ‘the demands of balancing work and study are creating pressures that are leading to the prospect of non-continuation for some’. The report calls on the government to review the level of maintenance support, as Rose Stephenson, director of policy and advocacy at Hepi, said: “There’s a risk here that students who […]need to rely on maintenance loans or paid employment, are being disadvantaged.’’

In 2022, this was addressed as increased hardship funds were introduced after BBC News found that the number of students asking for emergency cash nearly tripled between 2018-19 and 2020-21 at 95 UK universities. A Department for Education spokeswoman said that ‘this year universities can boost their hardship funds by drawing on up to £261m we have made available through the Office for Students.’ 

If you are struggling with your finances while at university and need to work to support yourself, there are ways in which you can try to minimise impact on your studies and create a balance. The University of Birmingham recommends that students work no more than 15 hours a week to ensure that you leave sufficient time for studying (although this may not be practical advice for everyone). It is beneficial to look for a job which may give you more of an advantage on your CV, such as tutoring. This is useful as you can take control of your hours and can often work remotely. The university also offers jobs on campus, such as in the Guild or working as a student ambassador, so it may be useful to keep up with Worklink and social media to find out about these job opportunities.

While it is stressful for a student to balance their degree alongside a job, it is the harsh and sad reality of the current financial climate. Therefore, if you do need to take on paid employment, remember that you are not alone and that there are some jobs which can be fulfilling, and that you in some ways may be better off for having the experience.

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