Students are missing classes, deadlines, meals and friends to keep the economy going

“It is making me worried and stressed, as I’ve had to sacrifice my study time to get a job to support my financial needs. Balancing all-day university clinical placements and working is impacting my academics”.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

It’s easy to zone out from the human impacts of the cost of living crisis – but today the Sutton Trust fills in some of the blanks with some new polling commissioned for the BBC on students’ experiences of undertaking paid work alongside their studies, including the impact on lecture attendance and meeting deadlines.

Back in January it warned that up to 30 per cent of students were at risk of dropping out – today it confirms what the rest of us know, that instead of dropping out (and indeed accessing hardship funds) they tend instead to work silly hours and let their health and outcomes suffer in the process.

First of all, it finds that two thirds of students (1,803 undergraduates students in England whose “home region” is in England and are studying at English universities) are reporting undertaking paid work in a typical week in the current academic year. This is odd, because the Labour Force Survey (the government’s official figures) have the percentage for the final quarter of last year at just 36.1% of full-time 18-24 year olds employed.

We really do need some wise heads to be convened in a room over the huge difference here, which can’t all be explained by nation, domicile, age or the fact that the LFS seems to depend on parental declaration for students in halls (!)

Nevertheless in these findings 38 per cent are report working 15 or fewer hours per week, 1 in 5 working 16-30 hours per week, and 6 per cent are working over 30 hours per week – not far off the equivalent of a full time job.

Alarmingly, 49 per cent of undergraduate students have missed classes this academic year in order to do paid work – with 6 per cent reporting they do this often. And just under a quarter (23 per cent) report that they have missed a deadline or asked for an extension in order to work – with 11 per cent reporting this has happened more than once this year.

Surprise surprise, students at post-1992 universities were most likely to be undertaking paid work at 7 in 10 compared to 6 in 10 at Russell Group universities – and 67 per cent of those from the most deprived areas of the country have worked during term this year, compared to 59 per cent in the least deprived areas. They also work longer hours – with 3 in 10 working more than 15 hours a week, compared to 2 in 10 of those from the most advantaged areas.

It’s the snapshots of qual that really bring it home. One student said that they are “only eating 2 meals a day and skipping meals and walking to campus more to avoid paying for transport”. Another said “I didn’t envisage the cost of living crisis to impact me as much as it has. My food bill was affordable in previous years, but now I’m probably spending 20 to 30 per cent more each week on the same foods I bought previously”.

One student said that her student accommodation had “increased in rent from £163 in first year to now £192 in third year” which she is struggling to afford, even after receiving a maintenance loan and a bursary from her university.

One said: “being able to afford clubs and societies related to my course is not as easy. I often have to think about whether an event is worth the money I’d spend on travel and tickets, so I don’t attend as many society events.”

Another said that they had been unable to participate in any society sports due to the “high initial joining fees”, meaning they feel left out compared to their peers. As the Sutton Trust argues, opportunities like this are important for the wellbeing and skills development of students, and it is important that all students can access them, no matter their background or financial circumstances.

One student had asked their family for financial support, but said “it was not a comfortable or easy experience”, describing the “sense of guilt” they had about asking for money whilst everyone is being affected by the rising cost of living. One student described how they went to their university fund for students in need of financial support, but found that the process of applying was long-winded and required a lot of supporting evidence: “I was fortunate to receive some money, however, it’s not a system I could trust if I needed support in an emergency”. Another student who held a leadership position within their university said, “I found there was a huge reluctance to claim financial support.”

One student said: “Now more than ever, I feel that the government are expecting parents and families to help support students and young people. This is not an option for me. Surviving on my maintenance loan alone, I would not be able to afford my rent”.

Sticking its fingers in its ears, the Department for Education quote for the story is as you’d expect – the usual “extra £15m in funding available for disadvantaged students, increasing the total to £276m this academic year”, despite the fact that the money was never intended (exclusively) for hardship and it’s been going down per head in real and actual terms for years (including this year’s “boost”).

The other day I did my own bit of polling, and while I only got 72 votes, you see the point. What is the point in kidding ourselves about “opportunity” if those opportunities see students missing classes, deadlines, meals and friends?

One response to “Students are missing classes, deadlines, meals and friends to keep the economy going

  1. If the 72 respondents were staff / academics, I am not surprised at the resulting votes.

    Some of the individual quotes in the article are interesting and concerning and show real hardship. However,I wonder how representative they are?

    It is also concerning that in those research papers where there are quantitative results, the findings are often widely different on the actual numbers involved / suffering.

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