Student Workers is a campaign driven by the AUSA Communities Committee in order to best support students who work while they study.
We ran a 'Working While Studying' survey that received over 800 responses, to gather student feedback on their experiences as student workers so that we could best identify how AUSA can support student workers - and further, to discern improvements that need to be made within the University so that we can lobby for students' interests. Following the outcome of the survey, we will be working to lobby the University to provide attendance allowance and assignment extensions for those working over the University's recommended hours.
Some of the key findings from the survey report:
- Around one third are working over the University's recommended hours
- 31% said they had required an extension due to working alongside University, and of those 45% said they did not receive adequate support from the University in terms of providing extensions or assessment flexibility due to working
- Over a quarter are employed on 0-hours contracts
- 50% receive no student funding (largely EU/International students), stating they are left with no choice but to work
You can view the full report below
The campaign has also partnered with Unite the Union to provide drop-in sessions for students to talk about issues they are having with their employer, and we are working on creating materials on joining a trade union and your rights in the workplace to be circulated to all students.
If you would like more information, or want to know how to get involved, email the AUSA Communities Officer, Lewis Macleod, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Worker Survey Report
The survey was distributed by AUSA between March 2017 and July 2017, with the intention of using the findings to inform a campaign on student workers’ rights. The survey was distributed via all-student emails and social media posts on the main AUSA Facebook page, as well as being shared to a number of student group Facebook pages. The survey consisted of 14 questions, the first 13 of which had set answers which respondents could select from, and the 14th invited students to write any other information they had on their experiences of working while studying.
1.Demographics (Q. 1 & 2)
In total, the survey had 835 respondents. This represents just under 6% of the student body, based on a total of around 14,500 students[i].
The majority (74%) of respondents placed themselves in the 18-24 age bracket, and there was also reasonable representation from other age groups.
In terms of the year/mode of study, there was a reasonably representative spread, with 72% of respondents being undergraduates and 21% postgraduates (7% identified as ‘other’). This closely reflects the most recent HESA figures, according to which the University of Aberdeen is made up of 71% undergraduate students and 29% postgraduate students.
2.Amount of loans/bursaries received by students (Q. 3)
50% of students who responded to this question answered that they received no loans and/or bursaries. This reflects the high number of EU and international students who attend the University of Aberdeen, as well as representing self-funding postgraduate students.
The next highest bracket at 18% is the £3500-£5000 range, which represents the majority of those receiving student finance in the UK[ii].
In the final question, those with student loans expressed that all of this money was going towards living costs and so they had no choice but to work if they wanted to fund anything else. Those who received no/little funding stated frustration with the lack of options for funding available to them, again leaving them with no choice but to work.
3.Type of residency (Q. 4)
The most common type of residency for respondents was in a private rental flat or house, with 59% answering this. 7% of respondents lived in University-owned halls, and 7% lived in privately-owned halls, giving a total of 14% in student accommodation.
When asked to provide more information, many respondents noted that their cost of living was a prime factor in their need to work while studying. Respondents both in the private rental sector and in student accommodation expressed that their high cost of living contributes to the stress of trying to balance work and study, with the majority of their money going towards these costs.
It is worth noting that many non-UK students needing to secure privately-rented property in Aberdeen are faced with large up-front costs due to not have a UK-based guarantor. This is generally as much as 6 months of rent up front plus a one-month deposit, an expense in the region of £2000-3000. Thus, even those arriving with savings immediately face spending a large chunk of this straight away. Similarly, all students staying in halls, university-owned or otherwise are generally expected to pay in termly instalments, at an average cost of around £1600 a term[iii]. This further presents issues for students in receipt of student loans, who either cannot cover this expense with a student loan instalment, or are left with very little to live on. Additionally, those who live in the private rental sector are generally offered a 12-month lease, so while students may have funding during term-time which they supplement with work, they can face difficulties over the summer months when they have to become fully reliant on their work.
4.Students who work/have worked alongside studies (Q. 5)
A large majority (93%) of respondents answered they had worked or were currently working alongside their studies. The survey was largely aimed at students who were working, so this is an unsurprising number, but may not be representative of the true balance of students who work versus those who don’t.
5.Reasons for not working (Q. 6)
The 59 (7%) of respondents who did not work had a variety of reasons for not doing so. As can be seen in Chart 5, most respondents answered that they don’t have enough time to fit work around studies. The second most popular choice was ‘I don’t know where to start looking for work’, and though this represents a small number of respondents, it is nonetheless disappointing considering AUSA and the University Careers Service are partnered on the StudentJob project, which aims to help students find part-time work while studying.
Of the five students who answered ‘Other’, two expressed that they were actively seeking work but struggling to secure a position, one stated that they work in the summer, one stated that they felt employers discriminated against non-British students and one stated that they could not work with their visa type.
It is clear that there are some ways in which students who don’t currently work but would like to can be supported, such as clearly signposting where students can find work, providing more information and assistance to students who feel they need to develop their skills to gain employment and looking into whether more can be done with regards to university timetabling. AUSA will continue to work with the Careers Service on the StudentJob initiative to address these issues.
6.Average number of hours worked alongside studies (Q. 7)
Most respondents answered that they worked an average of 10-16 hours a week.
The majority of respondents (66%) were working under the University’s suggested maximum hours of 20 per week[iv], and yet they still expressed that they found this difficult to balance. This leaves slightly over a third of respondents working over the recommended hours.
7.On a scale of 1-5 how do you find balancing university and work? (Q. 8)
Students rated this 3.37 on average.
- 70 respondents in Q.14 used negative descriptors such as ‘hard’, ‘difficult’ and ‘stressful’ to describe their experiences.
- 20 respondents said that they felt their academic work was suffering due to having to work while studying.
- Many respondents also noted that they found working beneficial for building skills such as time management
- Some part-time students responded saying that they felt their ‘part-time’ study hours were much higher than anticipated, meaning they struggled.
8.Number of students who have needed an extension due to work (Q. 9 & 10)
Close to a third of students (31%) said that they had needed an extension because of the amount they were working alongside university.
Of these, 55% of people felt they had been provided with adequate support for extensions because of this, while 45% had not. Students who gave further information expressed a range of experiences with lecturers, from those who were understanding of the need to work, to those who believed that students working were doing it out of choice, and deliberately affecting their studies in the process.
Additionally, some respondents noted that deadline times were often incompatible with those who work, such as first thing on a Monday morning, causing issues for those who work weekends, or late in the afternoon, when those who work evenings would be going to their job.
9.Do you feel your timetable is flexible enough to manage a job during university? (Q. 11)
77% of respondents felt their timetable was flexible enough to manage a job, while 23% did not. Giving more information, respondents noted a variety of issues they had found with timetabling:
- Compulsory courses for the same subject being scheduled inconveniently, for example one in the early morning and one in the late afternoon, breaking up the day and leaving no time to work during sociable hours.
- A lack of tutorial slots leading to issues like that above.
- Difficulty attending early morning classes due to only having nights available to work.
- Classes being rescheduled at the last minute clashing with work commitments.
- Some courses have very regular timetable changes, which makes it difficult to secure a consistent working schedule.
- Labs run late into the afternoon, which restricts students who need to work to late nights, or days off – reducing free time to study.
- New timetables can come at short notice, which poses difficulties for those in jobs with fixed hours.
10.Type of contract respondents are employed on (Q. 12)
Around half (51%) of students who answered this said they were on a part-time permanent contract. The next most popular selection was zero-hours contracts, with 27%.
The third highest response was full-time permanent at 13%. The majority of these respondents were PhD or Masters students, making up 60% of those who said they were in full-time work, which is possibly down to them having a more flexible timetable. 24% were undergraduate students, two of whom indicated in the final question that they were part-time students, and a further two indicating that they had family commitments, from which it could be gathered that these are possibly also part-time. However, as students were not asked explicitly whether they were studying part-time or full-time, it is hard to gauge whether the type of enrolment has an impact on this.
Respondents who gave more details in the final question noted the issues with different modes of work – those in part-time permanent contracts relating difficulties arranging time off with their employers for exams, and struggling to live over the summer months due to a lack of available overtime. Those in zero-hour contracts were generally pleased with the flexibility of their hours, but noted the difficulty of getting enough shifts consistently, especially over the summer months when not in receipt of student finance, and the lack of holiday pay over exam periods.
11.Membership of trade union (Q. 13)
The majority of respondents (86%) said they were not part of a trade union. None of the respondents who gave additional information in the final question made reference to trade unions, which demonstrates a clear need for AUSA and the University to do more to promote the importance of trade unions to students, and supporting them to join and become active within their workplaces.
12.Experience of working alongside studies (Q. 14)
The final section of the survey gave respondents the opportunity to write about their experience of working alongside their studies. 302 respondents gave an answer to this question. Other than responses relating to previous questions, key themes that arose were:
- Many respondents emphasised that they did not work out of choice, but rather because they had to in order to afford to live.
- A number of respondents expressed that they felt the university was not supportive of those working while studying, saying that they felt lecturers believed that they should be getting money through alternative means, such as parental help, rather than working.
- Students expressed that the lack of recorded lectures made it difficult to balance work and study.
- A number of student parents responded, emphasising the added difficulty of balancing childcare as well as studying and working. Similarly, other unpaid carers expressed the same difficulties. It was felt that this type of work was also not being recognised by the University.
- Students who had to attend placements as part of their course noted the added difficulties they faced, having to work full-time unpaid, while also trying to balance part-time work to afford living costs.
- A number of respondents felt their health was suffering due to the difficulty of balancing their university work with their employment.
- Respondents also had mixed experiences with employers. Some described their employers as helpful and understanding, while others had had difficulties with employers not being flexible.
- Many respondents felt they were missing out on social and extra-curricular activities due to having to work.
- A number of respondents felt there was not enough information and support around working while studying available to them. This varied from information on rights while working, to general information on finding work.
- Some respondents also noted that they struggled to get work relevant to their degree, and felt that they were not gaining a lot from the experience, other than the financial security of having a job.
- Another issue raised is that needing to hold down a permanent job to keep afloat meant struggling to secure opportunities such as summer placements, due to the risk associated with giving up their longer-term employment.
- Some respondents also noted that they found working while studying to be an overall positive experience, citing benefits such as better time management, getting to meet more people and reduced stress due to the financial security.
13.Suggestions for actions based on findings
- Encourage a more robust policy across courses on extensions and attendance allowance for those who work alongside studies.
- Raise awareness and understanding amongst academic staff about the necessity for students to work.
- Address cost of living concerns where possible, looking at both the cost of University-owned accommodation and students without guarantors who need to pay large up-front rent costs.
- Work with the University on the issues student workers have raised in regards to timetabling and work with UCU to ensure that extension of lecture recordings works in the interests of students and staff.
- Work with local employers to encourage more student-friendly scheduling.
- Look further into experiences students who have additional strains on their time, such as student parents, other unpaid carers and students who have placements to complete.
- AUSA should continue to work with the Careers service on the StudentJob scheme to support students who are seeking part-time work, as well as providing more information on workers’ rights for those already in employment.
- Offer greater support for students who do face issues with their employers, either in the form of improved provision at AUSA Advice or better links with bodies such as Citizens Advice and trade unions.
- Provide students with information about being a member of a trade union.
- Conduct further research into students who work full-time alongside studies.
- Look into the availability of work relevant to students’ degrees.
It is clear from responses that from the student perspective working while studying is often necessary and unavoidable, but that many lecturers and the University as a whole are failing to recognise this, believing that students should be able to focus full-time on their studies. RGU’s suggested monthly living costs for a student in Aberdeen are anywhere from a lower end of £578 and an upper end of £1205[v] for a student who lives in the city. For the majority of students surveyed, this amount of money is difficult to come by without working while studying.
Students lucky enough to find that both the University and their employer were able to be flexible generally had a positive time working while studying, however many have difficulties with one, the other, or both.
It is clear that there are ways in which students who work while they study can be further supported by both AUSA and the University. Furthermore, there are certain demographics of students, such as unpaid carers and students who have placements as part of their course, whose additional strains should also be taken into consideration.
[ii] Based on SAAS basic maintenance loan figure of £4750 and SFE basic loan figure of £4705
[iii] Based on average cost and tenancy length at Hillhead using figures here: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/accommodation/prospective-students/costs-201314-62.php#panel389
[iv] Suggested on Careers website here: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/careers/jobs-work-experience/parttime-work-635.php