Final Year Students Struggle with £15,000 of Debt at the Expense of University Experience

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New research reveals impact of work and debt on higher education

We expected students to cut down the time they spend working in their final year, but this is not the case. Not only are we finding that these students are more likely to work than in their first year, but the hours they spend have also increased.

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With student debt at a higher level than ever before, final year students are more likely to have jobs and work for longer hours during term time resulting in course dissatisfaction, lower grade expectations and less participation in extra-curricular activities, reveals the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU).

Futuretrack* is following almost 50,000 students from UCAS application until they get their first job. The latest report from stage three, published today (18 November 2010), charts how work and debt influenced their final year. It reveals that third year finalists are more likely to have a job than in their first year, with 78% working at some point. Students in Scotland and Northern Ireland are considerably more likely to have jobs, whereas those in Wales and the East are least likely.

Reasons for doing paid work while studying shifts in the third year towards funding living costs and gaining work experience. However, almost two thirds (62%) of finalists are working to avoid debt, with a third anticipating debt over £20,000.

The average expected debt on graduation is reported to be £15,700 and those owing at least this amount are more likely to feel that it may restrict their future options, with the prospect of debt inhibiting decisions to pursue postgraduate study or be able to wait for a good job.

Jane Artess, research director at HECSU says: “We expected students to cut down the time they spend working in their final year, but this is not the case. Not only are we finding that these students are more likely to work than in their first year, but the hours they spend have also increased. Average hours of paid work per week for women rose from eight to more than 12 hours while men worked just over 13 hours, nearly five hours more than in their first year.

“Already we have found that this is having a detrimental effect on their university experience, a situation that isn’t likely to improve for this year’s finalists as debt continues to stack up.”

Professor Kate Purcell leads Futuretrack at the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, she adds: “It is too early in the study to find out the impact of working on academic achievements, but we can say that fundamental aspects of student life are affected with those working long hours more likely to be dissatisfied with their courses, to predict lower grades for themselves and participate less in extra-curricular activities.”

The full report is available to download on http://www.hecsu.ac.uk

*Futuretrack surveyed more than 50,000 final year students at the full range of UK higher education institutions in the second half of their third year at university from January to July 2009. The study was commissioned by HECSU and carried out by the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick

Notes to editors
Futuretrack is the most ambitious study ever undertaken of the relationship between higher education and employment. The research investigates the impact of educational and community background on the information available to those applying to enter higher education, the choices that they make, and the implications of these choices as they progress through universities and colleges or make alternative choices.

Funded by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) in collaboration with the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), the Futuretrack research is being conducted by an interdisciplinary team at the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick and is led by Professor Kate Purcell. Futuretrack is part of a wider programme of research into career-making and the careers information and advice required by those entering the labour market in the early 21st century.

Two cohorts of UCAS applicants are being surveyed at four points in their careers: as they are about to embark on higher education, one year later, after three years of study and finally in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The large sample enables the Futuretrack research team to produce an unparalleled and detailed analysis of the significance of variables such as minority ethnic group, gender, subject studied, plus regional and socio-economic background.

HECSU is a registered charity that supports the work of higher education careers services in the UK and Republic of Ireland and funds major research projects that benefit the higher education careers sector. Graduate Prospects is the commercial subsidiary of HECSU and has been bringing students, graduates and recruiters together for over 30 years.

Media enquiries:
Clare Schofield, PR Officer, T: 0161 277 5285 E: c(dot)schofield(at)prospects(dot)ac(dot)uk
Jo Denye, PR officer, T: 0161 277 5341 E: j(dot)denye(at)prospects(dot)ac(dot)uk

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