Rising Cost of Living UK Students to Work Long Hours in Higher Education

5 min read

As the cost of living crisis continues to grip the UK students, a significant number of full-time university students find themselves working long hours in paid employment to support themselves. This trend, revealed by a recent survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), highlights a worrying shift in the higher education landscape, creating a two-tier system where financial necessity dictates a student’s ability to fully engage in their studies.

The Growing Burden of Work on UK Students

The Hepi survey, which included 10,000 full-time UK undergraduates, found that a record 56% of students had paid employment while studying, averaging 14.5 hours of work each week. This marks a significant increase from previous years and underscores the escalating financial pressures faced by students.

Experts argue that the lack of sufficient maintenance support is exacerbating the divide between students who can afford to focus solely on their education and those who must juggle work to make ends meet. This division threatens the traditional model of higher education in the UK, where students typically engage in full-time residential study away from home.

The Impact on Academic and Personal Lives

The combined demands of paid work and academic responsibilities are pushing many students to their limits. With some students averaging 48-hour working weeks during term time and others reaching up to 56-hour weeks, the strain is considerable. This is significantly higher than the average 36.6-hour working week for adults in full-time jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics.

University students in paid employment during term time
University students in paid employment during term time

Rose Stephenson, Hepi’s director of policy, highlighted the consequences of this trend: “As students battle the cost of living, the trend around part-time work becomes more concerning. Most students work, and the number of hours they work is increasing. If this trend continues, full-time study may become unfeasible for many.”

A Two-Tier Higher Education System

The increasing need for students to work long hours is contributing to a bifurcated system. Those from wealthier backgrounds, who do not need to work, can dedicate more time to their studies, extracurricular activities, and overall university experience. In contrast, students who must work to support themselves are at a disadvantage, with higher drop-out rates and lower chances of achieving top grades.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, warned of the growing divide: “A ‘bifurcated’ system is developing between undergraduates who can afford to enjoy the traditional university experience, including extracurricular activities and sports, and those for whom paid work ‘has to come first.'”

The Call for Better Maintenance Support

The cost of living crisis has flipped the proportion of students balancing paid employment with full-time study. Before 2021, about two-thirds of students did not engage in paid work during term time. However, this year, 56% of students reported having paid employment, working longer hours than their predecessors. Three-quarters of these students work to cover living costs, while 23% also support friends or family financially.

Chloe Field, the NUS’s vice-president for higher education, stressed the urgent need for improved maintenance support: “Not only are students cutting back on food, they are working almost full-time on top of already full-time studies, leaving them exhausted and unable to commit proper time and energy to our studies. The solutions are simple: reintroduce maintenance grants that meet the true cost of living, increase maintenance loans, and make students eligible for universal credit.”

The Reality of Modern Student Life

Despite the additional workload, many students still find value in their courses. The survey revealed that 39% of students believed their course was good value for money, with satisfaction levels rebounding from the lows seen during the Covid pandemic. However, the proportion of students who felt their course was poor value for money dropped to 26%, the lowest in a decade.

Hillman, a former adviser to Conservative higher education ministers, criticized the current approach to higher education funding and policy, particularly the Conservative party’s manifesto promise to close “low-value” university courses and promote apprenticeships: “This approach is ‘nuts, for so many reasons.'”


The rising cost of living is fundamentally altering the higher education landscape in the UK. With more students compelled to work long hours to support themselves, the traditional model of full-time, immersive study is under threat. Without significant intervention and improved maintenance support, the divide between financially secure students and those struggling to make ends meet will continue to widen, undermining the equity and quality of higher education in the UK [britishcouncil.org].



Waldex is a Maranao blogger and Maranao publisher in Davao City. You can find his other content on @waldextv. A dedicated writer at Davao Corporate, he combine his passion for letters with a deep appreciation for nature. His work reflects a unique blend of creativity and environmental consciousness, making him a prominent voice in both corporate and natural preserve. When his not writing or publishing, he enjoy capturing the great creatures, continually inspired by the creation of Almighty God.

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