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Work experience cuts graduate unemployment risk by half, study finds

Students who work while they are at university fare significantly better in the jobs market when they graduate, new research has revealed.

Having a part-time job and undertaking internships or work placements cuts the odds of unemployment by half and boosts the chances of entering a graduate level profession, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Students who had no paid employment, voluntary work or course-related work during their time at university – about 15 per cent of the cohort -  fared far less well, it found.

 “The magnitude of the effect of the different forms of work on the respondent’s labour market outcomes can be judged to be relatively large,” a report on the study, Learning from Future track: The impact of Work Experience on Higher Education Student Outcomes, concludes.

However, a separate BIS report on another study, Working while Studying; a Follow-up to the Student Income and Expenditure Survey 2011/12, warned that some students could be working too much and that a limit of 15 hours a week was advisable.

Tutors needed to be alert to the danger signs of over work such as missing lectures, poor quality work and tiredness, it said.

It also found that income from part-time work was declining, with 29 per cent of students engaged in menial work such as waiting tables, kitchen work and tending bar, a “marked increase” on previous years.

The Learning from Futuretrack study, by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, used data from a longitudinal study of the cohort who started university in the UK in 2006.

Like earlier studies, it found that a significant proportion of students combined full-time study with paid work – just over 43 per cent of third year students. Some 70 per cent worked for less than 15 hours a week.

Socio-economic background, parents’ education levels, the type of university attended, and prior attainment, all had an effect on students working profile, according to the study.

“Overall, students who undertook paid work during term time were more likely to come from disadvantaged family backgrounds and to be studying at lower tariff institutions than those who work during the vacation,” it said.

Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds were also more likely to work longer hours. Financial necessity and gaining work experience were the main reasons for getting a job, the study found.

About one in five students responding to the survey had undertaken work placements – ranging from a year to a few weeks. This fell to 10 per cent at higher tariff universities and rose to 30 per cent in the medium to lower tariff categories. Older students were also more likely to do a work placement. Students from wealthier backgrounds and those at higher tariff institutions were more likely to do an internship than a placement.

The study found clear advantages to working while at university. Students who had carried out both learning-related and paid work had higher odds of obtaining a good degree than those who did not work or who did only one form of work.

This group also had lower odds of unemployment – 50 per cent of the unemployment rates of respondents with no work experience.

The research pointed out that there was no agreement on the threshold at which the number of hours of work starts to have a negative effect on a students’ learning.

However, Working while Studying; a Follow-up to the Student Income and Expenditure Survey 2011/12, highlighted the difficulties that some students faced trying to work part-time while studying.

Some graduates questioned in the survey said that with hindsight, they had worked too much and they advised current students to try and restrict work to weekends and vacations and to avoid working in the final year.

The report found “acute challenges” for those working long and/or unsocial hours. It said students reported a deterioration in the quality of their studies, feeling tired or exhausted and disruption to their family and social life. The recession had led to a “marked increase” in casual, lower paid work, with fewer jobs in sales and customer services.