Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised a few eyebrows when he suggested he wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to university today. However, while students wait to hear how he will ease their hardships if Labour wins the next general election, a number of British universities are tweaking timetables so students can work more hours while they are studying.
Some universities are experimenting with block teaching and compacting lectures and tutorials over two or three days, while others are offering courses where teaching is done in either the mornings or afternoons so that students can get regular part-time paid employment on set days or times each week.
Earning while learning is nothing new, at least not in the United Kingdom, but some higher education experts are worried by the normalisation and active facilitation of students working almost full time while they are on courses they are supposed to be studying full time.
One of those concerned by the trend is Jim Dickinson, a former student leader who is now an associate editor for the higher education think tank Wonkhe.
What is a full-time course, anyway?
In a blog post published on 29 August, titled “What even is a ‘full-time’ course anyway?”, Dickinson tried to make sense of the regulations distinguishing full- and part-time courses and the different levels of maintenance loan support British students can receive when they are classified as studying full or part time.
Dickinson was responding to a front-page news story in The Observer newspaper by Julie Henry which said more universities are “reducing the number of days students are required to be on campus to enable them to work part time as they struggle to survive the cost-of-living crisis”.
She wrote: “The move makes it easier for the growing number of undergraduates who have to take on part-time jobs to make ends meet” as “inadequate maintenance loans barely cover accommodation costs”.
Henry’s Observer story echoed comments by Clare Marchant, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), and reported by University World News, when she told a webinar on the eve of the release of the A-level results: “What is very different this year is student expectations once they reach university, with the cost-of-living crisis uppermost in students’ minds and almost two-thirds expecting to have to take a part-time job alongside their studies. That’s very different to what it was like when I was a student.”