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Inequality : Think Tank Flags Risks of University Part-Time Jobs


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For many students, the pursuit of higher education is not just an intellectual journey but a financial challenge.

Rising tuition fees, soaring living costs, and the burden of student loans have pushed a significant portion of university students to seek part-time employment to make ends meet. As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, more and more students in the United Kingdom are taking on part-time jobs while attending university. A recent study reveals that nearly half of UK universities now promote job opportunities on their websites, reflecting the harsh reality that part-time work has become a crucial aspect of student life.


The Growing Trend of Student Employment


The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) conducted research in June, which found that 55% of students are currently engaged in paid work, compared to 45% the previous year. This significant increase in student employment indicates the financial pressures faced by today’s university attendees. The relentless hike in tuition fees, accommodation costs, and general living expenses has left many students with no choice but to juggle part-time jobs with their academic responsibilities.


Inequalities and Academic Impact


While part-time work can be a financial lifeline for some, it’s important to recognize that it risks exacerbating inequalities within the student population. Those who have to work extensive hours to support their studies may find themselves at a disadvantage compared to peers who have more financial freedom. Working students often struggle to participate in extracurricular activities, which can have a detrimental impact on their overall university experience.


Josh Freeman from the Hepi points out that this problem goes beyond financial disparities. It affects the sense of community and belonging that universities aim to foster among their students. When a substantial part of the student body is spending significant time off-campus due to work commitments, the rich social and extracurricular aspects of the university experience can be compromised.


Changing Attitudes and University Policies


Historically, universities have been cautious about endorsing part-time work during term time, fearing it could negatively impact students’ academic performance. However, the changing economic landscape and the recognition that many students have no other financial recourse have led to a shift in attitudes. Now, nearly half of UK universities actively promote part-time work opportunities on their websites, acknowledging that students need to balance their education with employment in today’s challenging financial climate.


Challenges and Solutions


Despite the increasing acceptance of part-time work, it’s essential to strike a balance. Mr. Freeman advises students not to work more than 15-20 hours per week to prevent it from adversely affecting their studies. Nevertheless, a recent survey by the National Union of Students revealed that almost one in five students who work part-time put in more than 20 hours a week.


Furthermore, disparities in pay rates based on age compound the challenges faced by working students. Younger students receive significantly lower hourly wages than their older counterparts, further exacerbating financial inequalities within the student body.


The Future of Student Employment


The issue of part-time work during university is not just about surviving financially; it’s about ensuring that higher education remains accessible and equitable for all. The burden of student loans, the rising cost of living, and the inadequacy of maintenance loans all contribute to the growing trend of student employment.


For universities and policymakers, addressing this issue requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves reassessing the financial support available to students, exploring ways to reduce tuition fees, and implementing fairer wage policies for younger workers.


In conclusion, the rise in student employment while attending university is a response to the ever-increasing financial challenges faced by students. While part-time work can provide much-needed income, it also risks deepening inequalities and compromising the holistic university experience. Striking a balance between financial necessity and academic success is the key challenge for both students and the institutions that serve them.

Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem is an Islamabad-based Senior Journalist

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