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MDX research highlights alarming issues facing working students

The study found most students are not aware of their basic employment rights

Kate Bade workplace

Thousands of university students in the workplace could be regularly facing discrimination, unpaid hours, threats of dismissal and jobs changing at short notice on a regular basis, based on new Middlesex University research.

Many students are unsure over their employment rights and fail to realise they could qualify for maternity leave, the study found.

Academics Dr Janroj Keles, Dr Claudio Morrison and Dr Parisa Dashtipour obtained funding from the Enhancing Education Awards and surveyed students at the University to explore their work status, learn about any difficulties and knowledge of employment rights.

The research team’s findings revealed:

  • 68% state that their work schedule is changed at short notice, 28.5% do not always or ever see a payslip, 22.5% of respondents complain about unpaid extra work; 17.34% claim some of their wages are paid cash in hand to avoid taxation.
  • In total 50% believe they are not entitled to paid maternity leave.
  • Almost 30% claim experiencing discrimination at work (almost 10% do so frequently), and 24% reported bullying.
  • 22% are subjected to threats of dismissal and 12% to disciplinary action
  • 20% reported accidents and injuries at work.
  • Third of students work precarious jobs, zero hours, freelance and in the informal sector (14%).
  • Lack of knowledge of employment rights is one of the main reasons for the difficult relationships with employers and the precariousness of students in the workplace.
  • Study sample included females (61.4%), students living at home (34%), international/overseas students (44%), British (32%) and EU-settled residents (18%).
  • In the sample, 90% of the students reported “not having enough money to live on without working”.

The academic fear these workplace issues could impact students’ performance as highlighted in recent Sutton Trust polling on the cost of living crises.

Dr Morrison, the project’s Principal Investigator and a Senior Research Fellow at MDX Business School, said: “The study discovered that student jobs are psychologically and physically taxing, as such immediately interfering with their ability to benefit from learning.

“Such experiences also lower their labour market expectations. The causes appear to lie in their lack of control over the conditions of their work and their poor knowledge of employment rights. Precarious employment and exploitative business models make such problems a structural feature of these jobs.

“We advocate changes in the employing sectors and in university funding to reduce students’ reliance on low pay/low skills jobs. Universities, Unions, and civil society, however, could improve student’s decision-making and bargaining power by raising their labour rights knowledge and awareness of workplace collective rights.”

Co-investigator Dr Keles, a Senior Research Fellow in Politics at Middlesex University, said: “Our research shows that overseas students and students from low-income households typically work under unfavourable conditions, such as long hours—up to 30 per week—low pay and usually unsocial hours.

“Moreover, a significant number of students, particularly overseas students state that they have experienced bullying and undervaluing at the workplace. In addition to increasing students' vulnerability and mental health issues, these precarious employment situations also lead to a number of other problems during their studies, including poor academic performance, low attendance, missing deadlines, requesting extensions, and even failing to turn in their assessments on time at the university.

“While universities constantly and rightly encourage students to gain work experience to increase their employability for social mobility, universities should also support the working students by including employment rights as part of the taught curriculum, providing employment rights advice service and the well-being team should offer additional support to those working students who are experiencing multiple problems at work.”

MDX students do have extensive resources on employment rights via the ‘employment’ section of the Uni Hub website.

The launch of the project’s preliminary findings reportLearning from Labour: Critical pedagogy for working students - will take place this Monday (March 27) at MDX’s campus in Hendon in the Vice-Chancellor room 9 to 14. Anyone interested in  viewing the report should contact the research team.

Find out more details about the event.

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