Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Impact of Paid Work on the Academic Performance of Students: A Case Study from the University of Canberra

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Impact of Paid Work on the Academic Performance of Students: A Case Study from the University of Canberra

Article excerpt

This article uses data collected from a survey of students at the University of Canberra to test the effects of paid employment on the average grade obtained in second semester, 2002. The results show that students who do well at school also tend to do well at university and that private study improves grades. Missing classes had a negative effect on grades. Paid employment did not have a large effect on grades. Our results show that some paid employment improves grades slightly, but working more than twenty-two hours per week has a negative effect.

Key Words

grades (scholastic)

university attendance


part time employment


academic achievement


Growing numbers of university teachers have expressed concern that students are becoming disengaged from their university experience because of time commitments in non-academic activities. More students are engaged in paid employment and the increasing proportion of mature-age students are likely to have family commitments. McInnis, James and Hartley (2000), in their surveys of first-year students in seven Australian universities, found that between 1994 and 1999 the percentage of full-time students in paid employment had grown from forty-two per cent to fifty-one per cent. By 2001, this share had risen to seventy-three per cent (McInnis & Hartley, 2002). Among those working in 1999, over half worked for eleven or more hours per week, compared with forty per cent in 1994.

The issue of the effect of paid work on university performance is not restricted to Australia. It has received attention in the UK literature (Metcalf, 2003; Winn, 2002; Hunt, Lincoln & Walker 2004). The British literature has focused on the equity implications of paid employment, arguing that those students from low income backgrounds are likely to be disadvantaged educationally by their need to engage in paid employment (see, for example, Metcalf, 2003: Hunt, Lincoln & Walker, 2004).

This article draws upon student data from the University of Canberra to address the issue of the extent to which engagement by full-time students in paid employment during the semester has an adverse impact on academic performance. An innovation of the study has been to combine the results of a survey with student administrative data. The university had 9,271 students enrolled in Semester 2, 2002, 6970 of these were undergraduates. More than half the students were female and two-thirds were under twenty-five years of age.

Various detailed studies of undergraduate students have suggested negative implications of non-academic activities on the university experience but this does not seem to be translated into lower grades. McInnis (2001) summarised the results of the first-year experience surveys conducted by him and his colleagues:

   Our findings suggest that compared with those who do not work,
   younger first year students who work part-time are more likely to
   spend fewer days on campus, to not work with other students on areas
   of their course, and to have studied inconsistently through the
   semester. They also tend to anticipate getting lower marks, and are
   more likely to seriously consider deferring at an early point of
   their student experience ... We "also know that these negative
   factors are amplified the more hours students work, and they feel
   seriously burdened by overcommitment. (p. 5).

He emphasised, however, that these negative implications of paid employment must be set against the positive benefits of part-time work in terms of promoting organisational skills and exposing students to new situations.

This issue was further explored by McInnis and Hartley (2002) in a survey of 1,563 working students who were enrolled full-time in nine Australian universities in 2001. This survey was directed at post-first-year students. …

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