Does paid work undermine the university experience?

In January I was sceptical, based on studies of student work and academic results, that increasing Youth Allowance to reduce work hours would pay academic dividends.

The first results (pdf) from the Australian Survey of Student Engagement reinforce the conclusion that the average 15 hours a week that undergraduates work for money is not a cause for concern.

The ASSE is based on a questionnaire (in the pdf above), with the questions grouped for analytical purposes according to six scales: academic challenge, active learning, student and staff interactions, enriching educational experiences, supportive learning environment, and work-integrated learning.

It found that, with the exception of work-integrated learning, only those working more than 30 hours a week off campus showed lower results in the various scales. For work-integrated learning those working more than 30 hours did better. Working on-campus was consistently a benefit.

The main reason, I suspect, is that the student lifestyle typically isn’t that busy by the standards of the professional and managerial jobs most students are headed towards. The ASSE finds that more than half of students report spending less than 10 hours a week preparing for class (unfortunately this question is a a bit ambiguous – the prompt is ‘studying, writing, doing homework or lab work, analysing data, rehearsing or other activities’ – which leaves it unclear whether essays or major assignments would be included). Say 15 hours in class, 15 hours at work, and 10 preparing for class, and you have a not very stressful 40 hour week.

This is just a summary report of the ASSE. The questions asked would let us create student timetables covering paid work, class preparation, and campus activities, and compare those with self-reported grade averages. It would be a useful addition to a debate dominated by intuition and anecdote to know more about the relationships between these variables.

The right-wing blur

For many commentators, the political right is just a blur. The various labels – conservative, neoliberal, neoconservative, New Right, economic rationalist – are thrown around according to fashion as much as meaning. Six years ago (pdf) I wrote an article on how ‘New Right’ was largely squeezed out by ‘economic rationalism’, which in turn was being challenged by ‘neoliberalism’, now the favourite. Despite the irrelevance of ‘neoconservatism’ to Australian politics, it is frequently used here as if it had some descriptive power. In the blogosphere we debate posts on what classical liberalism and conservatism have in common, but journalists don’t even know that there is a difference.

I was reminded of this twice over the last few days, first in this George Megalogenis piece and again when I read Monday’s Crikey. According to the radical leftist Jeff Sparrow,

Remember Katherine Betts’ The Great Divide? Paul Sheehan’s Among the Barbarians? Michael Thompson’s Labor Without Class? Mark Latham’s From the Suburbs? The decades worth of columns in The Australian; the reports churning out from the Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies?

The narrative was always the same. A chasm separated ordinary, decent Howard-voting Australians from an arrogant tertiary-educated, intellectual elite: a clutch of sneering know-it-alls who wanted to overrun the country with immigrants, make everyone guilty about Aborigines and brainwash the youth with Parisian post-modernist mumbo-jumbo.

Certainly there is a populist conservative strain in right-of-centre Australia. But this is not universal. Continue reading “The right-wing blur”