ERG SES C 13, Research in Higher Education
This paper focuses on students whose parents did not attend higher education (i.e. first-in-family students) and aims to explore conditions under which they are able to successfully combine studies and term-time employment.
Student employment has become a widespread phenomenon across many European countries and a common practice among higher education students in general (König, 2018). The percentage of working students varies from 22% to 76% among the EUROSTUDENT VI countries. According to the amount of working hours, students in central and Eastern Europe tend to work more than 30 hours per week, while in Western Europe they spend an average of 23-28 hours in a paid job (Masevičiūtė et al., 2018). The reasons for being a working student are manifold and not always of financial nature. Despite the fact that companies nowadays expect graduates to gain professional experience during their studies, some students also see working as an appreciated alternation from their everyday-university-life (Moreau and Leathwood, 2006).
However, due to their situational contexts where they often find themselves confronted with less favourable (economic) circumstances, research shows that first-in-family students have to take up term-time employment more often than their non-first-in-family peers (Horn and Carroll, 1996; Nairz-Wirth and Feldmann, 2015; Quinn, 2013). While previous research mainly focused on the negative relationship of term-time employment and study progress and portrayed first-in-family students as a group at risk, still little is known about how they successfully manage to arrange study and paid work (Spiegler and Bednarek, 2013). There is also little understanding on the positive impact working alongside studying might have – in particular for first-in-family students – to gain social capital for transitioning more smoothly into the labour market after graduation (O’Shea, 2016).
Thus, the outlined paper aims to analyse first-in-family students’ attitudes towards combining studies and employment. It also seeks to identify those factors, which positively/negatively affect these attitudes and therefore might influence their probability to successfully graduate. To shed light on the heterogeneous effects of term-time employment – with a focus on first-in-family students – a quantitative research approach is used.
From a theoretic perspective, we draw on Bourdieu’s concepts of economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital (Bourdieu, 1983) to analyse the impact of capital endowments on the attitudes towards combining study and paid work of first-in-family students.
To address the aims of this study, a quantitative research design is applied. Empirical data consist of a survey including 47.228 students in Austria, which is part of the broader EUROSTUDENT dataset and therefore allows cross-country comparisons. Austria is of particular interest because of it’s high proportion of working students (61%) and students, who are struggling in balancing study, employment and other life-domains (54%) (Zaussinger et al., 2016). Additionally, Austrian universities do not offer a part-time status for students, which results in many disadvantages for working students. Logistic regression models are applied to estimate conditions that lead to difficulties in combining study and paid work (i.e. dichotomous dependent variable: experiencing hardship in balancing study and work – yes/no). The number of working hours as well as the amount of time spent on studying (both measured in hours/week) are integrated into the model (i.e. metric independent variables). Additionally, to estimate the probability of having problems in combining study and employment variables such as gender, educational background, income (e.g. financial support from parents and/or the state via scholarships, grants, etc.), contentual closeness between work and study, direct/delayed entrance to university, general/alternative higher education entrance qualification and field of study are used. According to the field of study, we will deeply explore three fields of study in particular: education sciences (where first-in-family students are heavily overrepresented), business and economics (where the share of first-in-family students is equal to the average share within the overall student population) and medicine (where first-in-family students are strongly underrepresented).
So far, findings have shown that first-in-family students receive less financial support from their parents, which is why they work more hours per week compared to their peers. Overall, this has a negative impact on balancing study and work, which is in line with the current literature (König 2018). However, further analysis highlights that a negative impact only can be noticed after a specific amount of working hours (>10 hours per week) and thus, in interaction with the contentual closeness between employment and study. This means that especially students who work more than 10 hours per week in a job that is not related to their field of study face higher obstacles in balancing study and work. We could further identify a significant gender difference: men tend to have less problems in balancing study and employment compared to women. This may partly be explained by the fact that women might spend more time on additionally unpaid work, which could lead to a higher overall workload compared to men. Based on these preliminary findings we further explore the different fields of study in more detail to depict the heterogeneous conditions and institutional frameworks under which students have to balance their studies and paid jobs. The paper discusses how first-in-family students can be supported within the Austrian and the European context and addresses both scholars and researchers as well as professionals, who are involved in student support or equity initiatives. Based on the evidence we have gained so far, we suggest that specific groups at risk of dropping out should be identified (for example women, who are the first in their family attending university and working more than 10 hours per week) and provided with targeted support, e.g. creating tailored scholarships.
Bourdieu, P. (1983). Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital. R. Kreckel (Ed.), Soziale Ungleichheiten, 2, Göttingen: Schwartz. 183–198. Horn, L. J., Carroll, C. D. (1996). Nontraditional Undergraduates: Trends in Enrollment from 1986 to 1992 and Persistence and Attainment among 1989-90 Beginning Postsecondary Students. Statistical Analysis Report. Washington DC. König, R. (2018). Studienbegleitende Erwerbstätigkeit – ein Hindernis auf dem Weg zu einem erfolgreichen Studienabschluss?. Becker, K., Heißenberg, S. (Eds.), Dimensionen studentischer Vielfalt. Empirische Befunde zu heterogenen Studien- und Lebensarrangements. Hannover: wbv. Masevičiūtė, K., Šaukeckienė, V., Ozolinčiūtė, E. (2018). Combining studies and paid jobs. Thematic review. EUROSTUDENT IV. Vilnius: UAB. Moreau, M., Leathwood, C. (2006). Balancing paid work and studies: working (‐class) students in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 31(1), 23–42. Nairz-Wirth, E., Feldmann, K. (2015). Dropping out of university: Obstacles to overcome for non-traditional students. Paper presented in track 3 at the EAIR 37th Annual Forum in Krems, Austria, 1–10. O’Shea, S. (2016). Avoiding the manufacture of ‘sameness’: First-in-family students, cultural capital and the higher education environment. Higher Education, 72(1), 59–78. Quinn, J. (2013). Drop-Out and Completion in Higher Education in Europe: among students from under-represented groups. Reay, D., David, M. E., Ball, S. (2005). Degrees of choice: Class, race, gender and higher education. Staffordshire, Sterling: Trentham Books Limited. Spiegler, T., Bednarek, A. (2013). First-generation students: What we ask, what we know and what it means: an international review of the state of research. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 23(4), 318–337. Zaussinger, S., Unger, M., Thaler, B., Diabiasi, A., Grabher, A., Terzieva, B., Kulhanek, A. (2016). Studierenden-Sozialerhebung 2015. Band 1 und 2. Vienna: Institute for Applied Sciences.
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