Balancing act | With more students already in paid work, is a degree worth it anymore?

With more students already in paid work, is a degree worth it anymore?

Research suggests that 55% of university students are doing paid work alongside their studies, a 10% increase from 12 months ago.

The research, carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and co-authored by Advance HE, also found that 76% of respondents said that the cost-of-living crisis has had a negative impact on their education.

Additional to their degrees, students reported working an average of 13.5 hours per week, painting an image of what student life is today.

Largely due to the cost-of-living crisis, university students have been forced to seek paid work to support themselves.

Maintenance loans – which are intended to pay for accommodation, food, and other study-related items – are currently calculated based on a student’s household income. But HEPI are pressuring the government to rethink this system to ensure the loan can keep up with rises in inflation and costs of goods and services.

“The increase in the proportion of students who feel compelled to do so many hours of paid employment that their studies may suffer seems a particularly acute challenge,” says Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI. “Those in power should urgently look afresh at the maintenance support on offer to undergraduates.

“Given there is an expectation of a general election in the next year or so, we urge policymakers to engage with what students are saying via this year’s results. The survey shines a spotlight on the areas of higher education that are working well and the areas working less well.”

Students have faced tough economic and social factors coming out of the pandemic and with sustained economic pressures. Many students over the pandemic were forced to isolate in their student accommodation, and lectures were often changed to virtual ones, with surveys showing high levels of loneliness amongst university-goers.

Shifts in routes to employment?

With students increasingly reporting the challenges involved with going to university, many are opting for alternative routes to their career.

A survey found that a third of young people feel like university is a ‘waste of time’, largely due to challenges with getting a job even after completing a degree. Considering this, combined with the fact that going to university is becoming challenging due to economic pressures, we might expect to see an exodus of students choosing alternative routes to employment.

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"The emphasis for business and HR leaders must now be on tracking all forms of learning (formal and informal, online, on-the-job and so on) to truly understand what an employee can do,” says David Blake, CEO of education technology company Degreed. “University degrees are heavily relied on as they are easy to measure, simply put it on your resume and a recruiter can see you’re qualified.

“That’s a lot harder with online courses and on-the-job learning, but when there’s a consistent, easy way to measure and track these kinds of courses, they will rapidly overtake degrees as an up-to-date measure of competency.”



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