To work or not to work?

I was reading an essay entitled “Students’ perceptions of the effects of term-time paid employment” and it got me wondering how university life in the UK has changed in recent years with a greater number of students now undertaking part-time work of around 15 hours per week.

I didn’t take a job when I was at uni.  It meant I had to budget hard and consider purchases carefully at every step, but it left me with the time to do whatever I wanted.  It was never my intention to work and I did everything to keep out of the employment game throughout my degree.

That said, I did get paid to be a Senior Student on campus.  In the process, the uni paid for about 75% of my accommodation, so I guess you could call that a type of employment.

It pays the bills... (£20, photo by woodsy)

The essay got me thinking, to what extent is someone better or worse off if they have a job, comapred to one who doesn’t?

It cites a report by Curtis and Shani in 2002 where the main disadvantages of employment were “less time to study (45 per cent [of respondents]), money needs taking over from university (31 per cent), difficulty concentrating during lectures, and missing lectures in order to work (22 per cent)”.

A different study, by Pickering and Watts in 2000, showed positive effects of employment to include “the acquisition of transferable skills, enhanced employability, increased confidence in the world of work, and the improvement of organisational and time management skills”.  The essay goes on to give many references to both the boon and pain of term-time employment.

My part-time working friends at uni usually enjoyed their jobs.  They felt that they were branching out and experiencing positive life experiences over and above what university could give them.  However, they were unhappy at inflexible arrangements when all their mates were free to socialise and they had to commit to work.

They also found more involving weeks of study to be tiring, since they didn’t have a choice about going to work.  Nobody was going to ring in to work and say “I can’t come in because I’ve got an essay that’s more important than my job”.  Neither were they likely to ring in sick more than once in a blue moon.  After all, they were only working part-time hours and needed to be reliable in order to keep things sweet.

One thing I noticed was how my friends separated job and degree.  Even if the job went on to determine career direction more than the degree, a job was almost exclusively there to earn money and forget about the rest of the time.

Like I say, the only crossover went to students, like myself, who took a job within the university (at the bar, student shop, canteen, library, etc.).  Then it felt like an extention of university, with a few perks.  Serving at a bar or shop was an opportunity to say hello to your mates, make new friends more easily, and be involved in the general campus life.

I’ve got no answers or suggestions myself, but how has the university experience changed now that so many students need to hold down jobs at the same time?  Is academic work more rushed as a result?  Is there less time to explore socially?  Do some students face the need to hold down even longer hours now?

Or is the situation still the same?  Is it just a matter of doing the hours, pocketing the cash, and getting on with the rest of your life?  And how different is it not to have a part-time job?  Is the freedom of zero employment refreshing?

I’d be interested in any of your thoughts and experiences.


  1. At first please I’d like to apologize for any grammar or spelling mistakes I make. 🙂

    I have made different experiences with working while studying. I work since the second semester because I have an appartment I couldn’t afford without having a job. At the beginning I worked as a promoter which was very stressful. 2 x 8 Hours a week and I just got a provision which meant that most of the time I worked without being paid. After quitting I got a job at a model train shop which was nice and flexible but it didn’t support my carrer. I study publishing and after an internship I now work as an assistant at the largest (as far as circulation numbers are concerned) magazine publishers in Germany.

    If I didn’t need the money I could have skipped my first two jobs because there were
    a) awful and
    b) didn’t interest me at all (except the money of course)

    But now I’m glad having a job which fits perfectly in my CV. Work times are flexible, I can make important connections, earn more than before and I only work 10-12 hours a week. I think that’s doable.
    Of course I don’t have as much time for socializing as my friends have. And I need to take holiday in order to prepare for exams or during the critical time of my bachelor thesis. And when it comes to arrange project meetings it always depends on me, which can suck sometimes.
    But I have the chance to learn things in the business I want to work after graduating, make practical experiences and make the connections I already told about.

    I think it can be very difficult to find a balance between studying and working and it really depends on what kind of job you have, what your working hours are and how flexible your employer is. But if you have the chance to push your carreer during studying you shouldn’t miss it.

  2. Sina, I congratulate you for having ambition and developing your CV for the future. It’s fantastic to hear. And thank you for your comments.

    I know one person in particular who spotted the chance to push their career, just as you have. She has gone on to a pretty high-brow position at a major clothing company. And it all started with humble beginnings in a part-time job while she studied at uni. We all have to start somewhere.

    Yes, balance is difficult between studying and working. But from my experience, most students muddle through successfully and without too much difficulty.

    If anyone is out there getting nothing from their job, wishing they didn’t have to do it, but need the money to stay in education, I wish them luck in finding a more satisfying job. And there is one out there; your story proves that, Sina.

    All the very best with your study AND career in publishing.

  3. I started uni last september and got a part time job straight away, I couldn’t afford not to. Hardly any of my friends work and most that do only work on campus. From my personal experience I think it’s important to have more experiences than the university bubble, alot of my friends dont understand that i have to go out to work in order to eat as they just rely on daddy for everything. As an adult making a conscious decision to further my education I don’t understand the thinking that my parents should pay for it.
    However, because of the way the student loan payments have worked out, I’ve now been able to quit my time consuming minimum wage cleaning job to enjoy the summer semester on a tight budget.
    I think that I approach my time at uni differently from those who have no need for a job, for me uni is only part of my life, it is instrumental in getting me where I want to be in the future but i also have to focus on paying the bills now. I think for others uni means something different.

  4. Fiona, I didn’t have monetary support from parents either. As you suggest, some students just ask for more money and get it, or have their fees and accommodation paid for. It sounds like you’re coping admirably and you don’t resent your position either.

    You’re not alone in seeing university as a springboard to the future. For many, a degree is about getting a job after a few years studying. Less people are studying for the love of the subject. I must admit, I did it for love of the subject, but knew I wanted to get a lot more out of the whole experience too. I wasn’t disappointed.

    But uni means so many different things for each person that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. For some, they will take a practical route, focusing mainly on the work. For others, it’s 90% fun, 10% study.

    I don’t think it matters what reasons people give for being at uni, so long as they’re positive ones. If passion lives in a person and they know what they desire from life, that’s what matters.

    Now you’ve quit working for now, I hope you enjoy your summer semester to the max.

  5. I think that working while in school is a good thing and can keep a student balanced–no more than about 15 hours a week though. Too many students don’t work and I think it’s a shock for them when they finally enter the “real” world.

  6. I’d say the number of people needing to work while going to school is only going to increase. School is just too expensive not too.

    Personally, I took out huge loans to pay my way through college and I’m paying the price now, and for many years to come. I’d advise my kids to work part time, and go to school part time.

    I also feel learning to juggle these two responsibilities is worthwhile, especially as we race into a future where our time is micro-segmented into increasingly more tiny chunks.

  7. — How can you study at the university and keep working a full day?

    The situation is that now every single student wants to “live” – not just to study. I think so, because I’ve seen these ideas transitions during a long time. Honestly, I cannot understand, why did you bring up such question, – it’s just a simple life flow.

    P.S. I cannot understand, what does it mean – “once in a blue moon”? Does this mean «v koi-to veki»?

  8. @Jones, I think 15 hours a week is about the average from what I’ve read, so that makes sense. I suppose it also depends on the workload of what you’re studying.

    @Jeremy, yes it’s becoming more expensive and that does change opinions, expectations, enthusiasm, etc. It’s interesting that you say our time is ‘micro-segmented’ and I think you’re right. Though I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing. I’ve slipped into that myself at times and find it a lot more productive to concentrate on small numbers of bigger projects. It’s easier said than done though!

    @Rishat, people come to university with different expectations and many of them want to “live” as you say, while others simply need the money. And it is good to get experiences other than socialising and studying, which is where employment can help (among other things!).

    Yes, work is just part of life in a sense, but Higher Education previously didn’t have lots of students also working (in the UK at least), so it is interesting to examine how we all see the changes taking place. From everyone’s comments so far, it’s clear to see we have different reasons for working or not working while in education.

    I took “once in a blue moon” to mean ‘rarely’. If it happens “once in a blue moon”, it doesn’t often occur.

  9. It seems like I didn’t understand the topic of the disussion in full – I saw “study and have a job” instead of “study to walk in to the job”.

    If you say that a certain man goes up to the university to study and to work simultaneously, and there are defferences between what we have now and what was in past, I shall say that in Russia, even six years ago – and earlier, students didn’t want to earn more over their grant, because the “scholarship” were splendid. Now the averaged grant is such low, that student cannot even buy a shoe. Parents’ support is always good, but somebody of the students are parents, too. By the way, I study in the state university, but not fee-free – for almost $2000 within semester (my salary is $400 per month – not stiff), and I can understand people forced to work while studying.

    In another hand, if to say that people become students to make their future and to provide their material safety, I wish to say, that – again, in Russia – current situations differs drastically from what was just twenty years ago, because twenty years ago anyone could go work, and the State, engaged by law, could give him a flat in new house. Now the situation is that everyone, who wants to live slightly good, need to earn over $200000 for a simple flat. Another question is how can “degree” can help, because none of bachelors or masters can earn more than an ordinary house builder.

    Summing up, I wish to say, that universities change, because economics and politics change, and – obviously – anyone’s dreams, plans and lifestyle reforms continuously. I think, that tens years ago people will look at university education with another glance and from another position, so they will go towards another aims.

    P.S. I hope, that language barrier do not impede us in our discussion.

  10. Rishat, it was similar in the UK where students were given grants until around 1997/1998. Lucky things! But now we get loans instead, while bills increase each year and fees are charged for studying. No wonder our opinions have changed over time.

    As you say, we change because economics and politics change. Life doesn’t stand still.

    And now far more people are in Higher Education, the value of a Bachelors degree has changed in the eyes of both students and employers. I don’t agree with some commentators that degrees have lost most of their value. And I believe the university experience is about far more than getting a degree at the end of it anyway. The possibilities are endless.

    Anecdotally, I hear of many more people studying for a Masters Degree and beyond (including my wife and some good friends). Even I expect to take a postgraduate qualification one day. But I don’t know the actual figures. I suspect numbers are creeping up, though.

  11. For me it depends how much I can earn over summer (..and how much of it I have left over hah). If I didn’t work at all I wouldn’t be able to do *anything*. Not even travel home once in a blue moon.

    I pay roughly $6,600 rent + utility bills for the year, paid out of my $10,000 loan. $85 dollars a week to live on is not much in the UK (£42). Do-able, but as I said, I would not be able to go out at all. Plus all those unexpected expenses that turn up.

    If I am able to earn enough over summer I don’t need to work over term-term. As many other students would agree… that’s much more preferrable.

  12. Good point, Andrew. Summer work can be great for your free time at that point, great for your CV, and great for your bank balance.

    And if it means you don’t need to work during term, all the better.

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