Over the last two decades the costs of higher education in the UK have moved increasingly from the state to students (and their parents). As a consequence, an increasing percentage of university students work during the term. Based on a survey of standard-aged, third year students in four universities, this paper identifies the extent and pattern of term-time working, identifies how term-time working affects studying and discusses the implications of term-time working for equity and for the higher education system.
Almost half the students worked during the term, averaging 12 hours per week, whilst four percent regularly worked at least 20 hours per week. The study found that working during the term affected the quality of education and almost two-thirds of the students who worked reported difficulty balancing employment and educational demands. Financial pressures increased the probability of working (those whose families' did not provide financial support and those who received donations, most of which were related to hardship were more likely to work term-time). Students whose father did not have a degree (a group who are less likely to go to university) and women (especially women from ethnic minorities) were more likely to work term-time and, hence, benefit less educationally from university.
The extent of term-time working varied across the four universities. The study suggested that the financial system might lead to increasingly polarised universities: those that facilitate term-time working and those which do not, with the more prestigious universities tending to be in the former category. This would distort the university choice of those who needed to work term-time, inhibiting their access to prestigious universities, and lead to greater disadvantage amongst those who worked despite being at universities which made less concessions for term-time working.