“It felt like I was just going to work and university wasn’t really a part of my life.”
Second year Leeds student Heidi Parker, 20, has been skipping some lectures to work shifts at a music venue instead.
She says every time she comes out of her overdraft, “it’s a matter of weeks before I get straight back into it”.
The government has increased funding for university students, but a new poll suggests students in England are having to juggle their studies with paid work.
The online opinion poll, commissioned by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust with BBC News, suggests just under half (49%) of undergraduate students who responded have missed a lecture, seminar or workshop since September to do paid work.
The findings also suggest:
- one in eight (12%) students say they have skipped university to do paid work once
- almost a third (31%) say they have done so more than once
- and 6% say they often prioritise paid work over study.
Almost a quarter (24%) of the students who responded to the Savanta ComRes poll have also missed a university deadline, or asked for an extension, in order to do paid work.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, says the opinion poll shows students are facing increased pressures due to the cost of living crisis.
Money ‘always on our minds’
“At the end of first year, I had three different jobs,” says Heidi, who studies criminology with psychology at Leeds Beckett University.
“It caused a lot of stress. I worried about missing all those seminars.”
In December, as prices and inflation continued to rise, she was working up to 45 hours a week to afford her rent.
Heidi has since cut back on her hours, but still has two jobs – one at a music venue in Leeds city centre, and another in a coffee shop.
Her rent is currently £107 a week, but it will rise from September, and her weekly bills are already going up.
“Shopping is a lot more expensive. I used to spend £15 a week, now I spend £25 or £30,” she says.
“Me and all my friends are struggling – money is always on our mind.”
Leeds Beckett University says it has committed its “entire contingency fund” of £3.4m to help students who are struggling with the cost of living.
It says it’s also working closely with the students’ union to limit the impact of rising prices.
The Sutton Trust is calling for the government to reintroduce maintenance grants and increase financial support.
This would mean “low- and moderate-income students can fully partake in the university experience”, Sir Peter says.
Maintenance loans for students in England are increasing by 2.8% from September.
But with inflation at around 10%, student support is at its lowest level for seven years, in real terms, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
More than half (58%) of all students in England receiving a maintenance loan said it does not cover their living costs, a study by the Office for National Statistics suggests.
University of Portsmouth student Jamie Chevalier-Watts says it’s “a lot harder to budget this year”.
The 23-year-old works in a bar and often finishes his shifts at 6am.
He says he wants to put his coursework first, but has to miss lectures because he works long hours.
“I should be able to prioritise university and put all my energy into it, but even with the student loan, having to work is essential,” he says.
“I have to work to make sure I’m paying rent and have a social life as well.
“It’s not a great situation.”
A Department for Education spokesperson says it has made an extra £15m in funding available for disadvantaged students, increasing the total to £276m this academic year.
The online opinion poll, commissioned by social mobility and education charity the Sutton Trust with BBC News, was conducted by Savanta ComRes, a member of the British Polling Council.
The sample of 1,803 undergraduate students in England were asked the following questions:
- How often, if at all, have you missed a timetabled lecture, seminar or workshop to do paid work since the start of the autumn term in September 2022?
- How often, if at all, have you missed a deadline or asked for an extension, in order to do paid work since the start of the autumn term in September 2022?
- Since the start of the autumn term in September 2022, how many hours of paid work do you do a week on average?
- Since the start of the autumn term in September 2022, are you doing more or fewer hours of paid work compared to the last academic year?
The opinion poll results for students used by BBC News relates to undergraduates whose “home region” is in England and are studying at English universities.