Factcheck: does student employment slow down one's study progress?

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(02-10-2017) For many students, a new academic year coincides with picking up a student job. But doesn’t student employment slow down their study progress? Researchers at Ghent University reviewed the academic literature on this topic.

Not all student jobs are the same

The researchers examined 48 scientific publications in search of common threads in the literature on student employment and educational outcomes. In 42 studies the effect is clearly negative: students with a job are less successful in (some aspects) of their studies. The six other studies find either no effect or both positive and negative effects.

Notably, student employment during tertiary education appears to worsen educational performance more than student employment during secondary education. A possible explanation for this finding is that studies in tertiary education are more challenging and hence more difficult to combine with a student job.

Where does this negative effect show?

Doctoral researcher Brecht Neyt (Ghent University): “The studies are not unanimous on whether students with a student job obtain a degree less often. What they however do agree on, is that students who combine studying and working in tertiary education, need more years to obtain their degree.” 

Not all student jobs are the same, though. Evidence from the scientific literature shows that mainly students who work intensively (that is, more than eight hours per week) have difficulties to perform equally well as students without a student job.

A matter of priorities

New research (from Ghent University and University of Antwerp) among Flemish students shows it is important where student workers place their priorities. These students were asked to what extent they were ‘primarily oriented’ toward school versus toward their student job (and, by extension, the labour market). Students who were more labour market-oriented than school-oriented, were typically those students who experienced a more negative effect of their student employment. Students who combined studying and working, but who were nevertheless school-oriented, did not experience any negative effect on their study performance.

Advice should be nuanced

If studies find a relationship between student employment and study results, this is typically a negative one. Does this mean that the government should radically discourage student employment?

Professor Stijn Baert (Ghent University): “Absolutely not, given that there are too many other, good sides to student employment. For example, scientific research shows typically a positive relationship with later success on the labour market. We however do believe that youths should be aware of the trap that student employment could potentially be for their study progress. Too intensive jobs should hence be discouraged and the focus should remain on studying.”

Info

  • The literature review can be found here. The article on student employment, primary orientation and study results can be found here.
  • Department of Social Economics
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