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Living and Learning (and Working) in London: one year on

  • 5 February 2024
  • By Emily Dixon
  • This HEPI blog was kindly authored by Emily Dixon, Senior Research and Content Officer at London Higher.

When I wrote London Higher’s Living and Learning in London report a year ago, we were the first organisation to use HEPI/AdvanceHE’s Student Academic Experience Survey data to investigate how student experience differs in a particular UK region. We looked at London students’ answers to the survey questions, and we also considered the student experiences of student groups particularly well-represented in the capital such as international students, mature students and students of ethnicities other than white. Using such a range of survey questions with so many ways of splitting the data out, we were able to triangulate highly specific aspects of the many student experiences being lived across London at institutions of different size, specialism, local community and tariff group.

Everything we found in last year’s report was closely tied to and dependent on the circumstances in which students were living when the data was gathered in 2022. The Covid-19 lockdowns were still influencing daily lives and dominating our findings were a lack of opportunities to meet and socialise with other students, online engagement with teaching staff, and loneliness (particularly for international students). When the 2023 data were released, we were interested in what might have changed over twelve months for students in London. Here’s what we found:

By 2023, the immediate impacts of the Covid-19 lockdowns were fading and the ‘new normal’ for higher education students involved, among other things, a cost of living crisis that has been particularly severe in the capital. We were keen to understand how London students, and the communities particularly well-represented in London, felt about the value for money their courses provide and the jobs they are taking on in increasing numbers outside their studies.

We found that, in 2023, London students were particularly likely to value work placements, career preparation opportunities and post-graduation employment prospects more than their peers in the rest of the country, as well as spending more hours a week on internships and placements outside the work they do for their course. We also found that London students were the most likely in England to have a paid job outside their studies. Bearing in mind these are all full-time undergraduate students, and that London is the largest city in the UK where students must spend the most time and money commuting between accommodation, work, internships, social activities and study, this represents a significant amount of time spent working to support themselves and to increase their chances of getting a desirable job. While London students worked fewer hours per week at their paid jobs than students in several other areas of the country, the data painted a picture of students in the capital as busy, career-minded and keen to take on internships, placements and paid jobs to support themselves and help their future career prospects.

In a world where more full-time undergraduates have a paid job than not, higher education institutions and the bodies that support them should work with employers to provide varying opportunities for internships, placements and micro-placements to give a range of options for time commitment while students work to increase their employability. Work outside coursework has become a key aspect of the experience of those studying for a degree and applies to a large proportion of the London student population. We must, therefore, keep this in mind when gathering data on student experiences and reflect as a sector on exactly how the student experience has changed, and will change over the coming years.

With the year ahead set to be a politically significant one – what with both the London Mayoral election in May and a General Election before January 2025 – knowing how students feel about their experiences in the capital and elsewhere, and what can be done to enhance their perceptions of value, is vital insight for policymakers of all parties committed to upholding the quality and reputation of UK higher education. At London Higher, it is our mission to support London’s higher education sector to be the best place it can be for students wherever they come from in the world, so we shall continue to track trends for London students as each year’s data set is released. As the capital and nation head into campaigning mode, our latest analysis shows that London’s students – with their focus on employability and career outcomes – could be a key asset in boosting the economy, filling skills shortages and going for growth.

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