“Every hour is rush hour”: the life of employed students

By Will Hutchings & Joshua Hearn

Durham students who don’t receive sufficient financial support from student loans or their parents are resorting to “stressful”, “tiring” and “traumatic” part-time work alongside their studies to help finance their degree, a Palatinate survey can reveal.

One student, who described themselves as a “working class student on the maximum student loan” claims that the loan would “probably cover” their expenses “but not comfortably”. Another said “I’m on the maximum student loan and there is sometimes just not enough”.

Students claimed that they turned to part-time work to cover “the steep Durham rent prices” and “high college accommodation fees”.

Peaks in part-time work coincide with essay deadlines at the end of term

Although some of the students who responded to Palatinate’s survey were happy with their working conditions, others felt that having to work part-time was impacting their degree. One student employed by a local business said that their job “had a massive toll on my mental health [and] meant I had to repeat first year.”

For many, peaks in part-time work coincided with essay deadlines at the end of term. One student said that “formative season in first term coincided with peak Christmas season”, and claimed they “would be going to lectures on less than four hours sleep”.

Many students found that working for chain retailers led to better working conditions, as “they have more defined standards” and paid better than the national average for the age-group. Those working for independent
or local outlets complained about employment practices, saying “they made it difficult to swap shifts” and “the pay was minimum wage”.

One retail worker said that “the application process was really intense: 3 rounds of mock situations and role play interview” and that once they had the job it was “an intense workload”, with their employer “ringing them multiple times a week asking me to work extra shifts”.

I used to cry with stress

Another student working for a restaurant chain said: “I would
frequently burn myself on the oven but was under too much pressure to stop. I used to cry with stress. If they needed me to work on a busy day, they would me up on the day, with no notice”.

Many students opt to work for the university, either for the DSU or in college bars. Generally this had a better reputation amongst part-time workers, with one of the respondents explaining “we all understand each other’s academic commitments, and treatment is fair and respectful”.

Jobs at college bars are highly competitive and in most cases workers are paid minimum wage

Jobs at college bars are highly competitive and in most cases workers are paid minimum wage, although one student claimed that this is “fair for the workload.’’ Many still said that they felt that non-working students “don’t really get why we need to work”.

Nationally, more students than ever are now in some sort of employment, reaching 77% in 2015. Roughly 45% of students now have a part-time job, with 30% working during term-time.

The majority of part-time workers who responded to Palatinate’s survey said that they only worked out of necessity. Even those who were happy with their employer and their working conditions only seeked employment because of financial obligation.

As one student worker said, “if you don’t need to work, then don’t.”

Photograph by Maddie Fisher

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