Nearly a quarter of students at Oxford University are forced to earn money during term time despite the fact that the official policy strongly discourages them from working.
A survey by the Oxford University Student Union found that 19 per cent of students have to find time to work as well as complete the university’s rigorous academic timetable.
Louise McMullan, vice-president of the students’ union, which interviewed 137 undergraduates and graduates from 22 colleges, said: “Most colleges strongly discourage work during term time. There is no doubt that it affects students’ academic performance.
“The government support is insufficient. Those who are better off will also be more advantaged academically.”
A student would never be sent down, or expelled, from Oxford for working to earn money during term time, but the practice was strongly advised against, a spokesperson for the university said.
She said: “If possible, we encourage them not to seek work during the term but to concentrate on their studies.”
Oxford students also had shorter terms than other students, she pointed out, with just eight-week terms, rather than 10- or 11-week terms at other universities, which gave them extra time to work in the holidays.
For many students at Oxford, where the academic pressure is much greater than at most other British universities, there is no choice but to work unless they can get help from their college because of the escalating costs of being a student.
Two students interviewed for the survey said they had taken a year off before university to earn money to fund their degrees.
Many colleges have “hardship funds” for students, although these are not always available unless the student has already applied for all possible student loans.
The students’ union argues that this is “obviously off-putting” for the students who are wary of running up huge debts at university, unlike Americans who regard debts as a normal part of student life just like beer and baked beans.
The research found that more than 50 per cent of students rely on their overdrafts to make ends meet. Many said that they could not cope if they could not rely “heavily” on their overdraft.
The student president of the union, Helena Puig Larrauri, said that many of her friends worked in bars or shops to earn money. With the workload on students at Oxford, she said she had “no idea” how some of them managed to combine the two.
One undergraduate at Balliol talked of having to sprint to tutorials from her job selling perfume in a local shop. She had to arrange for her lunch break to coincide with her tutorial.
“I had to run straight back or else my manager would have killed me,” she said.
In one week, she did four days work, but then realised that it was impossible to cope with the academic pressures and work more than just one or two days at the same time.
A fourth-year undergraduate at Keble College, Yvonne Adams, 22, who works in a cocktail bar at weekends, said some of her friends worked in the college bar. Their tutors did not mind as long as their grades did not start slipping.
A survey carried out by the University of Hertford- shire last week showed that 56 per cent of its students were working up to 20 hours a week to fund their lifestyles or to reduce their debts on graduation.
A third of the students questioned said another reason for taking paid employment was to gain experience and improve their CVs.
Four in 10 working students said it encouraged them to organise their studies and more than a quarter said they were better motivated at university because of their jobs.
But not all the students managed to combine study and work so effectively. One in 10 admitted that they had fallen asleep during lectures.