Two-thirds of full-time students - more than half a million learners - have worked part-time at some stage during their course, according to new research published today.
Most work during the week and 43 per cent of them have jobs involving 15 hours or more a week. Job commitments lead to tiredness in class and missed classes, late delivery of assignments and less time for revision.
Nearly 2,600 students from 19 colleges in England, Scotland and Wales were surveyed by the Responsive College Unit, the specialist educational market researchers.
They found that 47 per cent of all the 16 to 19-year-old full-time students in the sample work, or had worked on at least some weekday evenings. Lecturers needed to be aware of the impact part-time work might have on students' ability to find time for course work. "The concept of full-time students is a misleading one, since it reflects the college's viewpoint rather than that of the students, for whom college study is only part of their fixed commitments."
Male students tend to work more hours outside college than females. More than a fifth of male students with part-time jobs worked more than 20 hours per week, which researchers described as "a very heavy commitment".
Many students also had home or caring responsibilities. Forty-seven per cent of students under 30 had significant care duties but for those age 30 and above the figure rises to 80 per cent. Well over half these older students worked 15 or more hours a week.
The impact of part-time work on studies rises dramatically when students work 10 or more hours per week. Students working on week days, rather than weekends or holidays, often found it difficult to turn down requests for extra hours or holiday cover. Some colleges have spoken to large employers of students, such as supermarkets, to inform them of their college commitments.
Part-time work lowers the quality of work produced by the student, and the problems increase towards the end of a course, when they are likely to be given more assignments.
More than one in five working students thinks their job commitments will lead to lower grades. But 59 per cent of working female students and 49 per cent of working males said they needed the income to carry on studying.
"The need for greater dialogue between colleges, working students and major employers is clear...Almost 40 per cent of working students believe their college could do more to help them balance work and college responsibilities and there is clear evidence in the survey that dialogue between staff and students can significantly increase students' perceptions of staff supportiveness."
National Survey of the Impact of Part-Time Work on Full-Time Students, RCU, 01772 885999.