Opinion | Stop being poor! – Bristol needs to stop ignoring the necessity of part-time work


Madison James, Second Year, Politics and French

Every student with a part-time job knows how it feels. That sinking feeling of colleagues airing your message in the group chat, forcing you to pull an eight hour shift the day before an exam.

The irritation of fobbing off friends and flat parties to work long into the night, capable of doing nothing more than crawling into bed once you get home.

Despite these frustrations, part-time work is rewarding, both financially and in terms of the valuable experience it offers. Most of all, it is a necessity for myself and thousands of other students.

A necessity for myself and thousands of other students

Although Bristol offers the limited possibility of employment on campus, the general attitude towards the necessity of part-time work requires rethinking. Given that over a third of UK students have at least one part-time job, many universities offer advice on finding work whilst managing time.

Bristol, however, has offered little information beyond a fifteen hour per week recommendation and a veiled threat to just not let it affect academic work.

This has not stopped students looking for employment, often involving upwards of twenty hours of labour per week. As someone who has worked in hospitality since I was sixteen, I have often found myself working these hours.

This is now especially true considering industry wide COVID-related staff shortages. Unfortunately for me, the re-opening of pubs and restaurants coincided with the weeks leading up to my exams and final deadlines and I felt pressured to work shifts when there was no one to cover them.

Joe, a second year Politics and Economics student, has a more charitable view of Bristol’s safeguards, including their Coronavirus Impact Funds which help those who are struggling financially during the pandemic.

However, he found that traditional part-time jobs are not flexible enough, opting instead to work for a mystery shopping company which has ensured that he can keep up with his academic responsibilities. He told Epigram that many of his friends have struggled with making their course deadlines due to their jobs.

Part-time work is a necessity for myself and thousands of other students

Aum, another second year, works both for Hollister and as a tutor. Luckily, he has been able to work flexibly, allowing him to keep to Bristol’s fifteen-hour recommendation.

His academic work has already suffered slightly and any more hours, he says, could have a severe impact on his grades.

Part-time work has allowed him to pay for all of his weekly expenses, excluding rent, while increasing his confidence and organisational skills. However, both students advised that taking on more shifts than you can manage can be detrimental and students need to avoid it if at all possible.

I felt pressured to work shifts when there was no one to cover them

Bristol’s attitude towards funding often mandatory years abroad also leaves a lot to be desired. Although my department is clearly invested in supporting us with most aspects of our time abroad, I felt they deterred us from gaining work placements due to a perceived difficulty of doing so.

When I asked about the possibility of arranging part-time work, I was told that “We advise you not to rely on getting a part-time job around your studies as there may well be visa restrictions”.

Further, “Getting a part-time job while studying should not be your primary concern at this stage, but it may be of interest to you to research whether this is possible”.

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Given that we were also advised that no-one yet knows how much funding students will receive from the new Turing scheme, and that our maintenance loans will likely be reduced, these statements appear to be tone deaf.

In response to these concerns, we have been given the sole recommendation that we must “budget very carefully” this year.

For many students, especially those who cannot rely on family funding, finding a source of income while abroad is therefore more than a simple “interest”. It may be vital for them to continue their degree.

The lack of information and communication from Bristol regarding years abroad has been subpar at best

Aum highlights that working abroad would be helpful both on the financial side and to improve his language skills. He has also told Epigram that his department has not yet been forthcoming with information, which has no doubt left many feeling they are unable to plan ahead.

“I believe the lack of information and communication from Bristol regarding years abroad has been subpar at best so far. They are yet to lay out a roadmap for our year abroad”.

Many Russell Group universities seem to believe that their degrees are full-time jobs in themselves and that their students should source funds elsewhere.

One can see, especially considering Bristol’s reputation as a university with a high proportion of private school students, how this could deter many applicants from lower-income backgrounds.

Bristol does offer practical solutions like grants and bursaries. This does not mean that the culture around part-time work is acceptable. It must be normalised and considered a vital part of student life rather than something that is swept under the rug.

Additionally, these have not prevented some students from working two or even three jobs at a time to alleviate the immense amount of debt they are saddled with.

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Featured Image: Unsplash / Amie Johnson

Have you had to balance your studies with part-time work? Let us know your thoughts!