As the coronavirus pandemic leaves hospitality and retail work hard to come by, more needs to be done to help working-class students weigh the cost of university.
It was recently announced that the UK has plunged into the worst recession on record, following the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy. As companies paddle to try and stay afloat, many people have lost their jobs as a result. In a report by the BBC, it was revealed that young people are the most likely to have been made redundant or to have their income fall due to the economic effects of the lockdown in the UK. For those returning to university this semester, the question is: how will those who rely on part-time jobs to supplement their student loans cope when that part-time work is hard to come by?
Even as those who have been furloughed during the pandemic return to their jobs in retail or service, they are often working fewer hours than before. Bars have had their maximum capacity reduced to as little as half of what they once served, and many shops are still not back to their normal opening hours. With students often turning to these industries for part-time work that fits in with their studies, it is clear some will struggle to make the same amount of money they earned in previous years. Students will be hard-pressed to find local work to supplement their income, meaning universities risk losing those students who may be unable to afford standard living costs.
Of course, financial aid is available for students to help cover these costs, but with rent prices rising in Glasgow’s West End, those who don’t have the luxury of being financially supported by family have to turn to part-time work to keep a roof over their heads. Glasgow University’s hardship fund could help some, as it allows students registered on full degree programmes to request support towards basic living costs and unforeseen accommodation, subsistence, travel, and technology costs due to the pandemic. However, as this is a limited, one-off emergency support and the future of the economy is still unclear, it isn’t a long-term solution for those who need jobs that simply aren’t there right now.
This will disproportionately affect working-class students. It is simple, those who can afford rent, travel expenses, living costs, and essential books and materials, without needing to work part-time, will carry on as normal. Those who cannot will be forced to drop out. If you’re under the impression that elitism at university is a thing of the past, I’m sorry to say it is alive and kicking. You only have to look at the SQA and the later A-level results scandals for that. Granted the Scottish and UK governments have backtracked on those now, but the fact it happened at all proves the point: university is still seen as something for those with money, those born into the “right” class.
Part-time jobs have for some time separated those at university along class lines. A 2005 survey by London South Bank University showed that students who work 16 hours a week and over were 40% less likely to achieve a 2:1 or above compared to their peers who don’t work during term-time. If you had the ability not to work whilst studying at all, you were already at an advantage even before this recession, with more time to study and take on the extracurricular activities and internships needed to pad out our CVs as we graduate. If you exit university with four years in retail when you want to go into accounting, it’s hard to compete with those who didn’t have to boost their income and could streamline their studies or afford to do unpaid experience.
Additionally, the effects of this recession on students’ mental health should not be ignored. Some who have previously relied on part-time work may be able to cope for a few months using their student loan and savings, but constantly worrying about whether you’ll be financially able to finish your degree if the jobs don’t reappear soon is burdensome on anyone. In a 2018 survey by savethestudent.org, 46% of students said that money troubles at university adversely affected their mental health, and 78% of students said they worried about making ends meet while they studied.
Many of this may be down to the lack of information that is made available before we enter higher education regarding how to manage finances and what help is available. The Independent reported in 2019 that many students were turning to loan sharks and pay-day loans after being caught off-guard by mandatory costs throughout the academic year that weren’t specified before the course began. This is yet another example of universities assuming that every student has the same financial capabilities, which simply isn’t true. Students need to be aware of their options financially and the real costs that the academic year will hold before they’re catapulted into it.