#ProjectWinter: The Student Trap: Skipping lectures to go to work to afford university – but at what cost?

someone looking stressed
Rucsandra Moldoveanu and Alice Bennett

A student’s life is seen as carefree and packed with spare time. But now many of them spend all that free time working rather than studying, only to afford said studies they cannot even fit around their busy schedules. Rucsandra Moldoveanu and Alice Bennett spoke to Nottingham students balancing crucial paid work with full-time study. 

more students are taking on extra hours at the expense of their studies

Most students struggle to balance completing all their assignments with nights out and extracurricular activities. 

But as the cost-of-living crisis deepens more students are taking on extra hours at the expense of their studies. 

Nights out? They are happy if their shifts means they can get to a lecture. 

A recent survey by the Sutton Trust revealed that 49 per cent of undergraduate students have had to miss out on classes to attend their jobs this academic year, while 23 per cent reported they have missed deadlines or asked for extensions in order to go work. 

Nottingham students can certainly find themselves in the same unfortunate positions, having even had to take on full-time jobs to make ends meet. 

Liana Homjakova is a final-year Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and has been working as Chef de Partie at Copper in the city’s centre since May 2022. 

Before that she worked full-time in Taco Bell on Angel Row. 

And after missing out on the ‘proper uni experience’ because of Covid-19 in her first year, taking on full-time work has profoundly altered Liana’s studies, as well as her mental and physical health. 

Two people in a kitchen with desserts

Liana (left) has been working at Copper in Nottingham City Centre as a chef for 10 months

“more often than not unbearable”

“There is only that much that a 22-year-old can handle as having to combine full time employment with full time studies is more often than not unbearable,” says the student who is originally from Riga, Latvia. 

“The stress from juggling responsibilities every day really makes you physically and emotionally drained and you just don’t want to do anything at all. 

“I have had many depressive episodes and as mental health is linked with physical health it made both sides suffer. 

“I was stressed about my health which made it worse mentally on top of all the uni work burdens. 

“It’s a spiral that often is only going downwards.” 

Although working between 45-50 hours a week and being on an above average wage, Liana still finds it hard to get by. 

On top of the sky-rocketing rent prices, bills and day-to-day expenses add to the financial burden of students. 

Making the money last is hard. 

“far from healthy”

The journalism student adds: “It is an everyday struggle trying to figure out how to budget to not end up completely broke by the end of the month. 

“Depending on my rota, I usually have to do my uni work in the evenings or early mornings before I go to work or lectures. 

“Sometimes if the day has been too busy, I have to do it at night, which is far from healthy and takes away a chunk of my sleep. 

“Balancing is a very shaky term for me with this topic as inevitably one of them will outweigh the other. 

“I just try to prioritise depending on where I am in life and just hope I’ll have enough strength to make it work.” 

A group of people looking at the camera

Liana and some of her colleagues at Copper

According to the Sutton Trust, 38 per cent of students report working 15 or fewer hours per week, 20 per cent report working 16-30 hours per week, while 6 per cent report working over 30 hours per week, which is close to the equivalent of a full-time job. 

It’s not just her studies that have been impacted by the long hours of her job, however, but her social life, too. 

While university is, by many, seen as the perfect time to meet as many people and go on as many nights out as possible, the majority of students now have to miss out on that. 

“I haven’t made as many friends as I was expecting”

“I do still have time to socialise, however, not even close enough to what others have and what I would love to have. 

“It is difficult arranging anything since I either have a shift or uni lectures that day, sometimes even both. 

“I can certainly say I haven’t made as many friends as I was expecting due to not having proper time to relax and enjoy spontaneous meetings,” Liana admits. 

Russel Group university students are no different

Contrary to popular opinion, Russell Group university students are no different, as most of them do not actually fit the “daddy’s money” aesthetic. 

This has been proven by the same Sutton Trust survey, through which 61 per cent of Russell Group students said they have undertaken paid work, while only eight more per cent of students at post-1992 universities did the same. 

Rayyan Rajah, a fourth-year Biotechnology with Computer Science student at the University of Nottingham, has had to take up part-time work for the first time since he started higher education. 

He now works as a data researcher for the company he had an internship at over the summer and considers himself lucky to be able to work “whenever and wherever” he wants remotely. 

“This is the first year I’ve taken a job whilst at uni and I’m seeing myself put more hours in to live comfortably, which means less time dedicated to uni work,” says Rayyan. 

many postgraduate students are having to make up a large amount of money

Master’s students remain overlooked within the discussion around students and the cost-of-living crisis, however. 

With the cost of rent and bills rising as well as not getting a maintenance loan, many postgraduates are having to make up a large amount of money alongside their already intense workload by taking on full-time and part-time jobs. 

A master’s student at the University of Nottingham, who wished to remain anonymous, works part-time during term and full time during the holidays. 

Similarly, other students are missing parts of their expensive education to work extra shifts simply to make ends meet with little support from government funding. 

“As a master’s student I have to work alongside my studies to be able to afford rent. 

“The loan provided to us by the government simply isn’t enough.” 

She explains that she has “got to the point before where I’ve skipped lectures so that I can attend work shifts.” 

This has impacted her studies significantly as, for example, she has spent her entire reading week in March working 8am – 5pm whilst she had a number of essays due. 

She states: “I’m not able to prioritise my studies over work, because if I do that then I can’t afford the studies in the first place.” 

Many postgraduates are clearly unable to be fully immersed in their studies and struggle with high levels of stress.  

As well as having a negative effect on her studies, the student also reports this having a “significant effect” on her mental health. 

90 per cent of students… admitted the rising cost-of-living had negatively impacted their mental health

As 90 per cent of students surveyed by the National Union of Students admitted the rising cost-of-living had negatively impacted their mental health, support from authoritative bodies is now more important than ever. 

When she moved to the UK to start her university journey in 2020, Liana had a whole different picture painted in her head. 

“It is very sad to see that those who find themselves in a situation where they are forced to do this to get a degree don’t often get the support they need from the outside. 

“It’s difficult to carry on and still be successful in all the things, however, if you do then it should be something to be proud of. 

“If I could choose, I would not work at all, but life just doesn’t work that way sadly.” 

To find out what support is available, visit the Student Hub page if you’re an NTU student, or the Student Services page if you’re a UoN student. 

What the Nottingham universities have to say….

A spokesperson from the University of Nottingham said: “The University of Nottingham has increased its Student Hardship Fund by 50% to £750,000 to provide grants and interest free loans to any student who is experiencing financial difficulties, as well as providing access to cheaper food options on campus, free kitchens, shower facilities, heated study spaces and period products. Students can find out more about the University’s support for them at https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/studentservices/money/cost-of-living.aspx

“The University is also working hard to shield students from significant price rises during the current cost-of-living crisis and has absorbed all cost increases for University accommodation this year rather than pass them onto students. We have also fixed 2023/24 increases in accommodation charges to 5% – the same level as last year – at a time when inflation was running at more than 12%.

“We are continuing to lobby the government for further support for students through our roles in Universities UK and the Russell Group. Together, universities can be a powerful lobby and we are collectively calling on government to: provide targeted hardship funding for UK students; reinstate maintenance grants for those most in need; ensure that support for students is protected against inflation; increase financial support for postgraduate researchers; and ensuring that any government action to support people with rising costs, such as energy, can be accessed by students across the UK, including those in halls.”

A Nottingham Trent University spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact that the increases in the cost of living can have on our students and we work in partnership with our students’ union to understand the kind of support needed. We provide a range of advice and guidance around managing money whilst studying and information about deals, perks and discounts.

“We regularly promote all that we offer to ensure that students know how we can help them. We have increased our hardship funds, have frozen prices at all our catering outlets and provide free fruit on campus. We have also targeted support for those most in need, such as bursaries or food parcels. We are also funding the costs of graduation gowns for all of our final year students.

“We’ll continue to listen to our students to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support them in the most appropriate way.”

Rucsandra Moldoveanu and Alice Bennett

To read more about what our Project Winter investigations revealed, click here.

Featured image courtesy of Rucsandra Moldoveanu. Permission to use granted to Impact.

In-article images 1 and 2 courtesy of Liana Homjakova. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to these images.

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