UK Universities are reducing the number of days students are required to be on campus to enable them to work part-time as they struggle to survive the cost of living crisis. Compact teaching calendars, where lectures and seminars are arranged on two or three days rather than scattered throughout the week, are being implemented by a number of institutions, according to the daily Guardian piece. The change will make it simpler for the increasing number of undergraduates who must work part-time jobs to support themselves. Over 50% of students currently also work outside of school, growing from 34% in 2021 and 45% in 2022.
Young students commencing their degrees in the autumn suffer financial instability due to insufficient maintenance loans that barely cover living expenses and poor families who struggle to pay parental payments. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), two-thirds of new students anticipate working a part-time job to make ends meet. Students talk of needing to work overtime, miss meals, or use credit cards to make ends meet.
De Montfort University, in Leicester, tested compact timetables last year in half of its courses and is introducing them across the board this autumn. Instead of studying four modules at a time, with about two hours’ teaching a week on each, undergraduates study one module for seven weeks.
“The change allows for more compact timetables and this sits round students’ lives better,” said vice-chancellor Prof Katie Normington. “A lot of students are working and have other responsibilities, and it makes organisation of that easier. We had great feedback last year from students. Internal surveys show that those on the block-teaching timetable were about 10% happier than those not doing it.”
The policy also benefits commuter students, who choose to live at home or cannot afford to move away because of rising rents and living costs. “Students with a Leicester or Leicestershire postcode rose from 42 to 47% last year,” said Prof Normington. “If they are travelling in to campus, it is easier and cheaper to do that a couple of times a week rather than four or five times for an hour here and there.”
Two to three-day timetables are also a feature of student life at Sunderland, Anglia Ruskin universities’ London campuses and the University of Law, with 16 campuses around England. At Coventry University’s campuses in Dagenham and Greenwich, students are taught over two-and-a-half days a week.
The model is entirely down to the cost of living issue,” said John Dishman, pro-vice-chancellor and CEO of CU Group. “Barking and Dagenham is the poorest borough of London. People rely on having part-time work and their income is basically maintenance loan and part-time work. We have seen it more and more over the last two years or so. People just will not have access to courses unless it is built alongside their ability to work. Some people are working nearly five days a week and studying with us the rest of the time. It’s not so much a part-time job as a full-time one. Their dedication is amazing. We have our graduation ceremony every year at the O2 and it’s just phenomenal the amount of work people put in to get there.”
Similarly at the Coventry and Scarborough campuses, lectures and seminars are held either five mornings or five afternoons a week, as part of its commitment to “life-shaped learning”. Roehampton University’s new timetables also allow students to plan ahead making it easier to fit in paid work. From this autumn, teaching on the first year of most of its undergraduate degree courses will be scheduled on no more than three days a week to help students “combine study with work, caring and other commitments”.
Cost of living worries ranked as a top concern in this year’s student experience survey, commissioned by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).