HEPI research into the cost-of-living crisis, to be discussed today on Radio 4 Money Box, shows that a significant proportion of universities are open to the possibility of students working part-time during their studies or even encouraging them to do so.
The finding is part of HEPI’s recent research into the crisis, How to beat a cost-of-learning crisis: Universities’ support for students, which investigated how universities were helping students in the context of a growing squeeze on their finances. The research was partly based on a website audit of 140 members of Universities UK and noted the strategies, such as food banks, travel subsidies and laptop loans, advertised as being offered by the university.
The research found that 48% of universities include information about part-time work on their websites, with many providing job ‘hubs’ listing details of jobs to help students with their search. Many advertise jobs on campus, such as working in a students’ union, but many also advertise other jobs in the local area.
This appears to represent a liberalising of attitudes to part-time work among universities. Historically, they might have cautioned students against working part-time. While a small number of universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial still ban or discourage their students working part-time, it appears a sizeable number of universities now consider it acceptable to work alongside studying, and even that it is necessary for students to afford to study.
The findings build on findings from the HEPI/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey , which found that a majority of students (55%) are now working part-time – with 2023 being the first year this was the case.
Yet with so many students working part-time, there are also significant risks. When students work more hours than they can manage, it risks compromising the quality of their studies. And on the other hand, those students who have to work part-time may be cut off from the universities who prohibit part-time work. Both of these may have a more pronounced effect on students from a low-income background.
As a result, the report calls for serious action to address the real-terms decline of maintenance support. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, support for students rose above inflation, but rose only 2.8% in England. Without enough funding for students, it may be that the need to increase their hours ever further – and universities will be forced to consider how much part-time work they are willing to promote.