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Balancing Work with University

A couple of our writers explain how they balance having a job with studying.

Daniel Gaffney/ 3rd Year English Literature and History/ Sports Direct.com

I started working for Sports Direct as soon as I turned 16. In the five years that have since passed, I’ve sat my GCSE’s, A-levels, a certain amount of driving tests and I am now on my third year of my degree programme. Throughout that time I have always had to work 12-25 hours a week to make ends meet.

Edinburgh is well known for having an abundance of students with an abundance of money. That’s fine, if anything I’m happy for them rather than jealous.

Working offers me a recurring chance to take a break from academics, and do something that is practical, away from a desk and doesn’t require an awful lot of thinking. Also, given that I have balanced having a job with the rest my life for so long, I didn’t find it overly challenging when I came to uni- it wasn’t a culture shock. To be honest , I feel that having a responsibility to be in a shop at a certain time gave me an advantage in first year, because it kept my sleep pattern in check, whereas a lot of my friends in halls switched to New York time.

Retail has been a rewarding experience. There are difficult customers of course, but when you do have a good day and speak to some nice (polite) people, you generally leave the shop in a good mood.

Sports Direct has received a lot of bad press in my time with the company, but I’ve never had a problem myself. I can see why a zero-hours contract is no use to people who have to support families and keep roofs over heads, but for a student it’s ideal because its flexible.

But most importantly, retail offers me a plan B. In the back of every students mind is the question: what am I actually going to do after university? I run Nowadays and I have a good network of journalists around me but I’m still not guaranteed to find my dream job immediately after I graduate. (If I graduate).

Being with Sports Direct for as long as I have been, I have a good relationship with the higher ups and it would be relatively simple for me to jump into a manager’s role when I graduate if I have to. In fact, a lot of the managers you see in stores are graduates who are just taking home a wage while planning their next step.

Overall, I don’t think students should be afraid of working. You have to know your limits in terms of how much you can do, but once you develop a routine, balancing uni and a job is very straightforward; and very rewarding.

Jack Ainslie/ 4th Year English Literature/ Sainsbury’s

I’ve worked in a Sainsbury’s branch for over five years now. I lived in Edinburgh before I went to uni here so had the job prior to starting my studies. Whilst it sometimes seems like I’m always in the same place, it is useful as there’s no need to leave jobs during the summer. I’ve had a variety of roles over my time there, including a part time supervisor position for a couple of years. However, the company underwent a management restructure resulting in me stepping back down to an entry level position which didn’t bother me as I was moving into the latter half of uni so didn’t want any extra responsibility. It wasn’t so great for many colleagues of mine who had to take redundancy.

A good thing is that the company have generally been flexible with my hours if I’ve wanted to cut back. There’s generally a decent whack of overtime available if I want to step up my hours during Christmas and summer. However, as a word of warning -and whilst I don’t wish to make myself sound like the Rockefeller of Sainsbury’s- I have more confidence than many other students in that workplace due to my previous position.

It’s important to always make sure the contract you agree to before beginning your employment is the right one for you. Whilst the majority of managers I’ve worked with have been reasonable it is important to not let yourself be pushed around. I have seen some students be nervous about speaking up if they think something is wrong with their working hours amongst other issues. Though, as ever in life, be prepared to do a favour in return if you are granted one. That’s why it’s so key to be happy with your initial contract.

I’ve generally found it relatively simple to juggle work and uni. Don’t work more hours than suits you. Before you take up the job ensure to check what holidays you will be entitled to. What’s their holiday policy? If you can’t use holidays, can you take unpaid leave at exam time? Even though it’s great to earn some extra money, always be realistic. Try and be aware of how much work you’ve got coming up if your considering taking on any extra shifts. All this being said I have enjoyed working alongside my studies. I have met some great people, and had many a good night out!

Alex Day/ 3rd Year English Literature/ Costa Coffee

For three years, I have worked twenty-five hour weeks alongside my degree to make ends meet financially. 

Certainly, it is difficult to reach the ideal work-university balance when the semester begins to heat up towards essay and exam time – this has been an incredible source of stress for me, and I am sure many others feel the same. Despite this, far and away the most frustrating part of this necessary arrangement is labouring long and hard and having little to show for it whilst there are many that have no need to work at all.

Especially at the University of Edinburgh, unemployed students are plentiful. I work out of necessity, but the norm for those around me seems to be having your monthly rent bought and paid for by their parents. I understand my independence will build ‘strength of character’, as my mother says when I moan about the issue, but strength of character is one thing – having your entire week shift-free to focus on your studies is another thing entirely, and gives you a significant advantage.

A few decades ago, student grants were more inclusive and more numerous. Part or full-time work was to make up that little bit extra, not to account for your income wholeheartedly, as it often does since Tony Blair’s government scrapped the more inclusive grants in 1997. With student loan payments often being significantly lower than Edinburgh’s soaring rent prices, student expenditure often dwarfs income.

The need to work long weeks alongside your studies whilst there are many that simply don’t have to represents a significant inequality; those from wealthier families have far more time to focus on their studies and are therefore more likely to graduate with better results because of their parents’ wealth that trickles down to them in monthly payments. The problem is not that there are wealthier people; it is that government funding for those less fortunate has slowly but surely been sliced over the course of the higher education boom. Herein, in my eyes, lies the injustice of this necessity.

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