Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



Dr Evans

  360. Access and retention are linked, and access is important.
  (Professor Callender) Absolutely.

  361. You say in your report, "Those potential students who are debt adverse or are willing to embrace such a culture and who have insufficient parental support or private means may see debt as a barrier to their access to full-time higher education." Would you agree that it is very hard to envisage a sensible study being done about access as well as retention that did not really address the issue of debt?
  (Professor Callender) Absolutely. The other factor that comes into play are the links between academic achievement, debt, financial hardship and dropping out. The answer is they are all linked. Whichever way you cut the data, I spent yesterday getting myself very confused by trying to do things in a multitude of ways, whichever way I cut the data there is a very strong link between levels of debt, levels of hardship, perceptions about how well students are doing academically at university and dropping out.

  362. HEFCE have produced graphs that show the point score on access versus the likelihood of dropping out and showing that there is a link, that the lower the A-level point score on entry the more likely they are to drop out. Because of the link between income and qualification, which is also uniform, those axes could equally show a link between the socioeconomic background and the likelihood of dropping out.
  (Professor Callender) You have to be a bit careful about the socioeconomic background being the key indicator. There are differences within class, and that also is a reason why people drop out. It is then making the next link, what I want to put at the centre is the fact that some of the reasons why people think they are doing badly is because of financial hardship. That is the link that has to come in.

  363. Elsewhere in your report, 3.1, you say "Most full-time students, however, did think their friends may have decided against university because of the changes of student funding and financing..." "61 per cent of full-timers agree with the statement, that changes to student funding have deterred some of my friends from coming to university. The proportion of full-time students who agreed with the statement was highest amongst students from social classes four and five, black students and women aged 25 and over, the very focus of the widening participation strategy". Were you trying to send a message with that bold statement from your findings?
  (Professor Callender) I am trying to send a message. When I started the session, I said I am deeply concerned about widening participation. I am deeply concerned that some of the changes that are taking place within the student financial system may end up deterring certain groups, ie those that are the focus of widening participation strategies. However, I would also like to say that the Government, and those of you who may or may have read my article yesterday in The Guardian have introduced, and are introducing, some extremely imaginative, I use the word "imaginative" advisedly, policies to try and deal with some of these issues.

  364. Can I marry up two things I cannot work out. It says in your report at 3.3, "What impact did financial hardship have on student's participation in higher education 1998/1999? 60 per cent of all full-time students and 40 per cent of part-timers reported they thought financial difficulties had negatively affected their academic performance. 37 per cent had not bought all of the books they needed because they could not afford them, and this rose to 67 per cent among lone parents studying full-time. 41 per cent of all full-time students who did not already own a computer were without one because they could not afford it. One in ten of both full and part-time students thought about dropping out for financial reasons". What I cannot understand is that the press release that came from the Department said that the report showed that most higher education students received enough financial support to meet all of their essential costs. Are those two compatible?


  365. Are they also compatible with the lifestyle we know many students live.
  (Professor Callender) What the study shows quite categorically is there are certain groups of students who experience very severe hardship. There are groups of students whose income is inadequate, and as a result they have to borrow large sums of money. We do have to distinguish between students in general, and certain groups of students, namely those who are the focus of the widening participation strategies. It is absolutely right that those groups of students from lower socioeconomic classes are more likely to be concerned, or deterred from entering higher education, because of the debts that they will build up. There is another question within the study which asks whether students nearly did not come to university because of concerns about building up debt. Overall only 15 per cent of all students agreed with that statement. That rises to a quarter for students from social classes four and five, which is double the proportion of students from social classes one and two.

Mr Marsden

  366. I am grateful to you, Professor Callender, for the specifics. It seems to me in this area there is a big gap between wish fulfilment on behalf of the student body and the practicalities of what is happening on the ground. That is what I want to turn to, the student experience of term-time work. In your report you said that you found that 46 per cent of all students have jobs during term time, working an average of eleven hours a week. I want to ask you, and for that matter Lindsey and Caroline whether, in fact, you have any figures on how many hours students might be working at the higher end of that range?
  (Professor Callender) I can supply those figures. One interesting thing is that those students who are living at home were working much higher than average, they were working about 17 hours.
  (Ms Callahan) We also asked whether or not that affected those that were working, again we can substantiate this in terms of the percentage that do have jobs while at university and the majority feel that that is adversely affecting their studies.
  (Professor Callender) Similarly with our study.
  (Ms Fidler) The NUS Hardship survey and the Students At Work survey again substantiate the figures. The Students at Work survey did find in addition to an average of 13.3 hours, there was an average of 6.5 overtime per week. If you want the parameters of this, what the extremes of working would be—[35]

  367. That would be helpful.
  (Ms Fidler) What is important is that all of the studies have been showing that students do feel that the amount of paid work they are having to do is having an effect on their academic performance in terms of the time they have to study, meeting deadlines and, indeed, mental health, the worry and stress that goes along with the work, the tiredness they feel and for some the anxiety or lack of sleep. I think paid work has become a very important role in the income for the majority of students. Where the income of students may have risen paid work is actually taking a bigger part of that income or a more important part of that income, that itself may affect academic performance and retention.

  368. The difficulty with all of that is that by definition that is the first time. It would be interesting to see what specific studies there were for part-time students or mature students coming back. For most students their first experience of these things is their first experience. Much of what you are describing is subjective and not capable, as we have already heard, of being demonstrated?
  (Professor Callender) What we do know is that young people at school also work, it is an increasingly normal experience. Having to combine work and study is not necessarily new, because it may be that they work at weekends, et cetera. That, as an experience, is not necessarily a new experience.
  (Ms Callahan) We asked what are the best and the worse aspects of university. In terms of the top three worst aspects, first of all having little money, over half said that; being in debt was the second, 40 per cent said that; and juggling university work with other commitments was the third. They were the top three aspects.

  369. Do you think if you asked any student that question over the last 30 or 40 years you would have come up with different answers?
  (Professor Callender) This is a benchmark. I would dearly love to have the answers to these questions from a decade ago.

  370. The point I am making, and I am not trying to be too hard on the statistics, I think that anecdote is always difficult. In any period or at any time you could have said to a group of students, "Do you have enough money to live on at university?" I think they would have said, "No". The difficulty we have with these statistics, as you rightly say, is that this is the first benchmark that we have. That is why I am trying to concentrate the questions on some of the specifics.
  (Professor Callender) We can already show the increasing proportion of students who are involved in paid employment while they are studying, since 1989.
  (Ms Fidler) Also the increased cost of studying and living.

  371. I am going to come on to that, if I may. I want to ask specific questions about that. Can I ask a little bit more about the actual work that students are doing and the impact of what they are doing. When the Committee was in the United States—there is obviously a far longer tradition of students working, for the reason we know—we heard a great deal of differential between the sort of work that was done and, indeed, for that matter in our conversations with students we have had in this country on this report. I think one of the things that concerns me is that we have a situation where certain students, by virtue of their courses, perhaps, in medicine, where the actual number of committed hours to the technical work, or whatever, is much larger than students studying humanities and social sciences. Those students, by definition, face a much sharper choice between actually doing that work and getting into debt. Do you feel that this issue of the differentiation of student's ability to do work by the sorts of course they do is one that has been taken up sufficiently and recognised by universities?
  (Professor Callender) I do not have any data on the sort of work that students undertook, I do not know whether they work in McDonald's or—

  372. Can I ask you another point, you said that you do not have data. Do you have data in your study on the differential experience of students by subject area, ie between people doing sciences, humanities and social sciences?
  (Professor Callender) We do have data.

  373. Does that indicate any particular differences?
  (Professor Callender) I have not analysed it.
  (Ms Callahan) We have a great deal of data broken down by subject area.

  374. In view of the fact that this was a concern that was expressed to us in the United States and it has been expressed to us here that it would be useful, not just for yourself, for HEFCE and DfEE to look more closely at the differential experience of students?
  (Professor Callender) I absolutely agree. Universities UK are commissioning me to do a new study looking in much more detail about the paid work experience of students. I recognise it absolutely and, Gordon, within the questionnaire we have tried to pick up what you are talking about. If you look at other literature within the higher education literature, work experience is perceived to be a very positive thing. The issue is whether all work experience is positive. We asked students in our survey, "Did paid work affect your academic performance in any way?". If they said yes, we then asked whether it was a positive effect or a negative effect. Unfortunately for full-time students in particular only ten per cent perceived it as a positive experience. In my study I did not start with the assumption that any paid work is a negative.

  375. Because you have not broken down in the study the sort of work that these students are doing it is rather difficult to draw broad conclusions as to whether all work under all circumstances would be detrimental to students studies.
  (Professor Callender) I would not like to say that either.

  Chairman: I think we are neglecting Caroline and Lindsey here.

Mr Marsden

  376. I was going to the ask Lindsey to come in on that, particularly on the point that I asked about, whether universities themselves are doing enough to provide work that is user friendly to their studies?
  (Ms Fidler) Paid work opportunities. Quite a few institutions will provide job shops to help students to find work and guarantee a minimum wage for that paid work.

  377. Are you talking about work within the university departments or are you talking about fixing them up with a job in a call centre?
  (Ms Fidler) They will act as a recruiter.

  378. The point I am talking about, I think it is an important issue, it is certainly one we had explained to us in the United States with the differential experience, is that UK universities themselves have been slow, let me put it bluntly, to address the needs and expectations of students in terms of needing to have paid work on their campus, but also paid work they can dovetail with their course work. I am not really talking about job shops for call centres. I am talking whether students get paid work as research assistants, whether they are involved in teaching, things like that. That is really what I am trying to get at.
  (Ms Fidler) Student unions have traditionally been good at providing opportunities for students to work on campus. The academic side of work tends to always be laid with postgraduates. I do not have any figures on that, this is completely anecdotal. I think institutions realise the need but I am not sure they can provide all of the opportunities. There is a move to try and accredit skills within the work place. Again, that initiative has quite often come from the student union and student development initiatives. There is that move in some institutions now to actually try to accredit skills in the work place. That is not widespread, that is not within every institution.
  (Professor Callender) I just wanted to add a point which will give you a flavour of the sort of jobs that students are doing. We found that a quarter were earning below the national minimum wage.


  379. Does that not indicate there is more of a role for university to take a proactive role. What Gordon is interested in and I am certainly interested in and this Committee is, is that more proactive role. You could design work that built on and added and gave value to the course that students were on.
  (Professor Callender) Indeed. Again the research that Universities UK is funding me do will look at good practice.

35   Full-time undergraduates working during term time (range = 1.40 hours per week) Back
1-10 hours11-20 hours21-30 hours31-40 hours

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