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One casualty is one too many
“One casualty is one too many”
A submission to the
Treasury Committee Student Loans Inquiry that addresses specifically the terms
of reference relating to; “the impact
of student finances on students”.
The inquiry states that, “It will focus on the impact of student loans on the public finances,
the success or failure of fee funding to act as a 'market' for higher
education, and the impact of student finances on students”.
By Professor Mike Larkin.
23rd October 2017.
Emeritus Professor of
Microbial Biochemistry, Queen’s University Belfast. Retired early and living in
Edinburgh.Thirty six years of experience
in teaching and supporting students at all levels in Higher Education.
Research experience in
environmental science and biotechnology, microbiology and biochemistry. Former
lead academic of the award winning QUESTOR Centre (http://www.questor.qub.ac.uk/).
Former UCU president at
Queen’s University Belfast, Chair of UCU Northern Ireland and member of UCU
·A personal perspective:
·The extent of part-time employment amongst
·Student part-time jobs and attainment – the
·Basis for a solution:
This submission is made to highlight specifically the
plight of many students that are burdened with financial worries and low paid
part-time jobs whilst studying at University. My perspective comes from
extensive experience in supporting students whilst at Queen’s University
Belfast. The university has a proud record of helping students from low income backgrounds
and has one of the highest intakes of students from such backgrounds in the UK.
It stands out amongst the Russell group of Universities in this respect.
Despite being a successful research academic, I also insisted on retaining a
substantial teaching role and have taught students at all levels without a
break for 36 years. The last course I coordinated and ran had 322 students
enrolled and covered general Microbiology and practical laboratory training; a
As fees were introduced it became clear to me that many
students were compromising their attainment at University through diverting
much of their time to part-time jobs. This situation has steadily become worse.
I decided to retire early at the end of 2016 to devote my time and my own resources
to seeking ways to protect such students as they embarked upon their careers.
I am currently carrying out a detailed review of the
formal evidence that examines what effect, if any, part-time jobs have on the marks
and degree grades that students achieve. I have many personal examples of the shocking
effects of working hours on students that I have supported. Whilst many have a family safety-net to fall back
into, others are taking a risk on a “high wire with no safety net at all”. If
they fall it can be catastrophic for them and their careers.All too often a first class degree becomes a
2.1 or 2.2 degree. These many examples fuel my belief that “one casualty is one too many”.
This submission summarises a single issue that the committee
should therefore consider. It defines the main effect of fees and low
maintenance grants/loans has on students and their families that have little to
It goes to the
heart of social mobility, namely the ability of students to afford to take a
risk and to ultimately succeed in higher education.
of part-time employment amongst students:
A survey by the Royal bank of Scotland
in 2006 reported that almost
half of the UK's students worked part-time during the term and earned a
staggering £2.3bn a year. Those that did, worked an average of
16 hours a week, with 20% doing more than 20 hours per week. Subsequent surveys
by Endsleigh with the National Union of Students reached similar conclusions.
By 2015, 77% of the 4,642 surveyed had jobs; 63% worked part-time and,
amazingly, 14% worked full time. By comparison 59% had term-time jobs in 2014
and 57% in 2013. Furthermore, the families that could afford it were
contributing increasing funds to help out. These figures appeared to be driven
by the decision to further increase fees in 2012 after the 2010 Browne review.
The link between increased financial burdens and part-time work seems clear
enough. However, such surveys often present overall averages that hide the
extent of pressures on the poorest students.There are many individuals that show extraordinary determination in the
face of the challenge, but suffer a consequent loss of attainment.
part-time jobs and attainment – the evidence:
This appears to be the biggest “elephant in the room” for
many institutions. Many universities do not gather formal data that might link
the burden of part-time jobs to student attainment. One reason for this might
be to hide the evidence that the number of formal contact hours with students
has declined. This enables scope for more part-time working and thus lets
poorer students complete their studies. Academic attainment is ascribed to the
individual and their ability and not to other factors. Nevertheless, many
universities do survey students regarding the extent of part-time jobs but have
somewhat patchy data.The problem
remains largely a hidden one and I have observed that many academic staff are
not fully aware of the extent of the burden amongst the students they teach.
are only a limited number studies that have sought to define the link between
the time spent in part-time employment and attainment. In 2001 it was concluded
that, “There is found to be a
financially vulnerable group of students whose fragile financial position
largely results from their parents being unable to offer much financial
support; this group in particular finds their time at university characterised
by considerable amounts of paid work and increasing debt” (Christie, Munro, and Rettig 2001). By 2008, Callender et al(Callender 2008) reported on a study of 1000
students in six UK universities. This may still be the most rigorous study to
date and it opened up some alarming observations of the situation then.
It showed clearly that part-time work during term had a detrimental effect on
both final year marks and degree results. Indeed, going further it reported a
greater negative effect the greater the number of hours students worked.
Consequently, it was concluded that, “students
working the average number of hours a week were a third less likely to get a
good degree than an identical non-working student. Some of the least qualified
and poorest students are most adversely affected perpetuating existing
inequalities in higher education”. This study reinforced an earlier report
from one post-92 university (Hunt, Lincoln, and Walker 2004) that observed that those in
employment in the term were disproportionately from less well-off backgrounds.
It concluded that we might become “concerned
about the efficiency (loss of attainment) as well as the equity/fairness
consequences of the arrangements”.
2012, a web based study in one university showed that the majority of students
worked in the term. Indeed, some students were spending longer in such
employment than in time-tabled classes but saw positive aspects of work
experience. It was concluded that there was a “need for institutions to consider offering more support mechanisms for
individual students” (Robotham 2012). This is further evidenced by McGregor (2015) whose
studies concluded that almost two thirds of students worked in term-time with
an average of 16 hours per week calculated. Whilst most felt this affected
their studies, over half also declared that their physical health was affected.
Fewer noted mental health problems but it was also a concerning issue. One solution
from the students was that lectures should be recorded and made openly available.
extent of part-time jobs amongst students is not confined to the UK. There are numerous
other examples world-wide. For example, similar conclusions have been reported
in Italy (Triventi 2014) and the USA (Logan
et al. 2016). A study in 2011 showed that the influence of
parental education and success is felt across eleven EU countries including the
UK (Triventi 2011). A general conclusion is that
some term-time working may be beneficial to studies, particularly if it is
related to the degree subject and objectives (Geel and Backes-Gellner 2012). However, although suggested in some cases, there
is no good evidence that there is a generally applicable or ideal threshold
number of hours beyond which working is detrimental to studies. Nevertheless
the study of Logan et al. (Logan, Hughes, and Logan 2016) concluded that exceeding 20
hours a week was to be discouraged.
Basis for a solution:
first thing to clarify is what the social and political objectives are with
regard to students in Higher Education. Secondly, to define a basis for
fairness and equality of opportunity.If,
for example, a university was to offer their students an extra hour in an
examination if they could pay a fee for it, everyone would be outraged.However, it seems that assessing a
substantial course assignment or project that counts greatly towards the degree
outcome is not constrained by such a notion of fairness. A student with the time
available may spend, for example, 20 or so hours on their assignment whereas a
student with part-time work perhaps exceeding 20 hours per week may have to
forgo sleep to compete effectively. This is not equal or fair by any measure.
emphasis should change from how much part-time work is being done to how much
time and resources each and every student has available to complete their
studies. The universities should not need compromise the contact time and
support available to accommodate the part-time jobs of students or to allow
significant numbers of staff to concentrate on research whilst low paid assistants
bear the teaching burden. Both are a recipe for a fudge that could lead to
collapse of the whole system.
designing any funding system it must start with consideration of the individual student and work from that
point.This would require starting again
from the beginning and resetting the system.
three principles in seeking a fair and equal education of high quality.
1.Every university will provide defined, rigorous and
testing degree programmes that offers access to the full expertise of the most
2.Every student will have the same time and resources
available to carry out their studies regardless of background.
3.There will be Total Equality for students
regardless of circumstances, race or gender. Even one student failing or
attaining a lower class degree because of time and resource problems will be:
“One casualty too many”.
Claire. 2008. “The Impact of Term-Time Employment on Higher Education Students’
Academic Attainment and Achievement.” Journal of Education Policy
H., M. Munro, and H. Rettig. 2001. “Making Ends Meet: Student Incomes and Debt.”
Studies in Higher Education 26(3):363–83.
Regula and Uschi Backes-Gellner. 2012. “Earning While Learning: When and How
Student Employment Is Beneficial.” Labour 26(3):313–40.
Andrew, Ian Lincoln, and Arthur Walker. 2004. “Term-Time Employment and
Academic Attainment: Evidence from a Large-Scale Survey of Undergraduates at
Northumbria University.” Journal of Further and Higher Education
Jennifer, Traci Hughes, and Brian Logan. 2016. “Overworked? An Observation of
the Relationship Between Student Employment and Academic Performance.” Journal
of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice 18(3):250–62.
Iain. 2015. “How Does Term-Time Paid Work Affect Higher Education Students’
Studies, and What Can Be Done to Minimise Any Negative Effects?” Journal of
Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice 3(2):3–14.
David. 2012. “Student Part-Time Employment: Characteristics and Consequences.” Education
+ Training 54(1):65–75.
M. 2011. “Stratification in Higher Education and Its Relationship with Social
Inequality: A Comparative Study of 11 European Countries.” European
Sociological Review 29(3):489–502.
Moris. 2014. “Does Working during Higher Education Affect Students’ Academic
Progression?” Economics of Education Review. 57(6): 681-702.
UPDATE 8th August 2020 Things are moving fast today with severe criticism mounting about Ofqual and SQA, and urgent action is needed. TEFS has laid out ten points that should be considered to reverse out of the crumbling mess. Fairness should replace 'maintaining standards' as the primary objective. The government must cease trying to defend a system that acts as a barrier to the less advantaged. Since posting yesterday, things have been moving fast. Today the Guardian put the examinations issue in large print on its front page with ‘Nearly 40% of A-level result predictions to be downgraded in England’ . This conclusion came about after some great detective work by former medical statistician, Huy Duong, who analysed the data available and reconciled this with the Ofqual announcement that there could have been a 12% inflation in higher grades. It seems that Ofqual have been caught red handed and "Duong’s findings were privately confirmed to the Guardian by ex
This week confirmed beyond any doubt that Ofqual is pointing the finger of blame for the public examinations chaos this summer firmly at the government and its ministers. The positions of Schools Minister, Nick Gibb and Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson must be on the line. When Williamson is confronted by the Education Committee next week, like Momus he may find his mask has slipped and cannot lay blame anywhere else. He might be meeting his Nemesis and find he is expelled from his lofty position. Called to account. On Wednesday morning, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Education Permanent Secretary, Susan Acland-Hood, and Director for Qualifications, Michelle Dyson, will be called to account by the Education Committee. With the redoubtable Robert Halfon in the chair, they will face a hard time. This is because Halfon and his colleagues will be armed with more documentary evidence from Ofqual and others that look bad for both ministers. All of the correspo
UPDATE: Augar Speaks out Today, Friday 8th May 2020, Philip Augar broke cover and commented on the financial crisis in our universities in the Financial Times. With ' The time is ripe to reform UK university finance' he acknowledged that "Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising" . He is looking to a new post-COVID-19 world and he must be listened to. The likelihood of the government's response to his report last year diverging far from its recommendations looms. Augar has offered alternative options for funding Universities in his article for the Financial Times today (8th May 2020). His input is welcome at this time and the government should be bringing him into the fold again. TEFS has argued for a comprehensive review of university finances that goes well beyond simply looking at students and fees with: "Therefore, a working group involving students (such as NUS), staff (such as UCU) universi