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.
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.