What are the benefits and risks of students working during their studies?

The EUROSTUDENT policy-makers conference brought participants together to get a sneak preview of the EUROSTUDENT VI data and discuss the relevance and implications to their national contexts in three different workshops. The participants of the working group on students’ employment came together to discuss the risk and benefits associated with students pursuing gainful employment alongside their studies as well as possible policy measures for a supportive HE environment. After a short sneak preview of the EUROSTUDENT VI data, participants discussed possible benefits and risks associated with students’ employment.

Working students_compilation1
Impressions on the obstacles of student mobility. A drawing by Akvile Magicdust made at the EUROSTUDENT Researchers’ Forum.

Main possible benefits of working alongside studies as identified by the participants of the working group:

  • On a personal level:
    • earnings can increase the living standard of students;
    • employment can foster students’ independence and personal growth.
  • Studies and employment may benefit each other by providing real-life applications for theoretical knowledge, and vice versa.
  • Work experience during studies can prepare students for a smoother transition to the labour market.
  • A higher education system that allows the combination of work and studies supports the heterogeneity of the student population.
    • Life-long learners (delayed entrants) can benefit particularly from employment alongside studies.

Some possible risks and challenges associated students pursuing paid work alongside their studies as identified by the participants of the working group:

  • Working and studying may overburden students and negatively impact on their studies. Especially students who depend on their earnings may be at a higher risk of abandoning their studies and dropping out.
  • Rigid study structures and negative attitudes at higher education institutions can prevent a successful balance between work and studies.
  • Students work experience is often not recognised by higher education institutions.
  • Employment as a purely material pursuit may hamper students’ self-development due to economic constraints.
  • Successful work experience during studies may prematurely draw students out of the higher education system if employers offer students attractive positions before graduating (“job outs”).

What can be done at the policy level and by higher education institutions to increase the chances of reaping the benefits of employment alongside studies, while minimising the risks associated with it? Participants proposed the following measures and solutions:

  • Flexibility in curriculum and schedule (more student- centred), e.g. through e-learning as well as in the work environment (flexible work schedules);
  • Formally enabling part-time studies;
  • Appreciating the value of work experience for studies both formally (Recognition of prior learning) and informally;
  • Cooperation between HEIs and employers (e.g. work experiences embedded in studies, dual studies);
  • More, paid internships;
  • Traineeships/internships abroad to gain work and mobility experience at the same time.

The EUROSTUDENT Thematic Review (to be published in autumn 2017) will take a closer look at the situation of students working alongside studies, aiming to provide a deeper understanding of these students, their financial and time budget, and their assessment of their situation.

The EUROSTUDENT VI Synopsis of Indicators, to be published in spring of 2018, will provide data for 28 EHEA countries on the matters of students’ employment during their studies. For an overview of findings from EUROSTUDENT V (2012-2015), see the most recent Synopsis of Indicators. You can also read the overview of current research and discussions on student employment that were presented at the EUROSTUDENT Researchers’ Forum in February 2017.

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