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Does having a job as a student put you at a disadvantage?

Speaking to students, Sofia Webster examines the potential disadvantages of working part-time whilst at university

By Sofia Webster, Film & TV Co-Deputy Editor

As a result of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a job while at university has become increasingly common. Given the stagnation of maintenance loans — which have failed to keep pace with rising rent prices — and soaring inflation, it comes as no surprise that more students are working at university than ever before.

In their 2023 research report, the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that 55 per cent of students surveyed were doing paid work alongside their course, up from 45 per cent in 2022. The survey noted that working part-time as a student can cause undue stress and pose challenges when balancing workloads. Moreover, a rise in the average number of hours students spend at work per week was also a point of concern.

As these figures have steadily increased over the past few years, it leads many to wonder whether more students will need to turn to part-time work for financial support.

‘Working alongside studies definitely adds a lot more stress'

As a result, inequalities may be exacerbated as less affluent students will have to work longer hours to make ends meet, unlike their counterparts from wealthier backgrounds who have the privilege of being able to focus exclusively on their academic workload.

To gain a better understanding of what it’s like working while at university, Epigram spoke to Ava, a second-year student, who said ‘Having a job alongside university can be daunting and make you feel like you’re missing out academically.’

Second-year student, Ed, reiterated this, stating that: ‘Working alongside studies definitely adds a lot more stress onto an already quite intense period of education.’ 

While working long hours in part-time employment can limit students’ availability to focus on their studies, having a job can also be beneficial. Acquiring soft skills and professional experience that cannot be taught in the classroom can help improve students’ chances of finding employment soon after graduation. According to Prospects, having a job whilst at university can also ‘Expand your networks and give you tangible examples to use at an interview.’

After conversing with students who maintain a job while pursuing their degree, it is clear that there is pressure around time management. Between working, completing an academic course and maintaining a social life, some students are forced to juggle a multitude of responsibilities.

Despite this, Ava noted that working ‘Allows you to manage time better’ and gives her a sense of achievement as ‘Earning money is something to be proud of.’ 

Another second-year student, Leonie, said that working a zero-hour contract actually ‘makes it easier to balance university and working’, suggesting that flexible part-time work is key to mitigating potential stress.

However, in the eventuality that students are unable to balance part-time work and their studies, there appears to be little support from the university.

According to the University of Bristol’s website, having part-time work alongside an academic course is not a valid reason for being granted extenuating circumstances when it comes to assessments.

Since extenuating circumstances are defined as something that is ‘Unexpected, unavoidable, and outside of your control’, students with part-time jobs may face additional challenges in meeting academic requirements without special consideration. 

Epigram spoke to a third-year English student about her experience working part-time during final year. When asked about balancing her job and studies during assessments, she stated: ‘I feel quite nervous about how I’ll manage my commitments when it comes to doing assessments this year, especially since I’m doing my dissertation.’

universities are now starting to advertise part-time work for students

When asked about the university’s extenuating circumstances policy, she noted that ‘It’s quite unfair. Having a part-time job to get experience is one thing, but needing a job to support yourself financially is a situation that should be accounted for. It’s yet another barrier that underprivileged students face whilst at university.’

In a BBC article, Josh Freeman, the policy manager at Hepi, said that universities have been historically resistant to the idea of student part-time work. However, with the escalation of the cost of living crisis, it is no surprise that universities are now starting to advertise part-time work for students. Many jobs are being created with students in mind, with research from Hepi showing that 48 per cent of universities now include information about part-time employment on their websites.

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This is true for the University of Bristol, whose website advertises several part-time jobs including Student Union staff, social media content creators, PASS Leaders and Peer Mentors, to name a few.

While having a job at university can contribute to students’ personal development beyond the classroom, it can also lead to enhanced stress levels. In order to create an inclusive educational environment, the university should proactively address the challenges faced by working students and consider implementing flexible policies that accommodate their needs.

Featured Image: Unsplash /

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