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Does part-time work at school impact on going to university?

By Xiaodong Gong, Rebecca Cassells, Alan Duncan Research report 17 December 2012 ISBN 978 1 922056 29 0

Description

Combining school study with part-time or casual work is an increasing trend for Australian high school students. This report looks at the impact working while studying has on students' intentions to go to university and their actual enrolment in university. Using data from LSAY Y98, the authors find that combining some work with study does not affect the intention to enrol in university, or change the likelihood of enrolling, but working intensively does reduce the chances of going to university, especially for girls. They also find that school peers appear to play a role in students' study and work choices, with students more likely to to combine study and work if a higher proportion of their school mates do so.

Summary

About the research

Combining school study with part-time or casual work is an increasing trend for Australian high school students. For some, it is a way of earning some extra cash and having a bit of freedom from their parents, or it is an opportunity to get some experience in an occupation they are interested in. This paper looks at the impact that working while studying has on students' intentions to go to university as well as their actual enrolments.

The authors use data from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) 1998 cohort to observe the work and study patterns of young people over a period of time. The paper confirms the findings of other research: that students are more likely to combine study and work as they progress through their school years, with over half of students working in Year 12. The study also found that girls are more inclined to combine study and work, but boys tend to work more intensively than girls. Combining some work with study does not change the likelihood of enrolling in university, but working intensively — more than 15 hours per week — does reduce the chances of going to university, especially for girls. This paper adds new detail to what is emerging quite clearly: that some part-time work for full-time students is fine, but long hours do impact on academic progress.

Key messages

  • Combining work and study is fluid, with students moving in and out of work throughout the year. While the likelihood of working increases as a student moves further into their education, students do tend to work less intensively in Year 12, perhaps indicating that they regulate their work hours as their study commitments increase.
  • The influence of school peers can be seen in students' study and work choices, with students more likely to combine study and work if a higher proportion of their school mates do so. Similarly, peer effects also play a role in students' intentions to go to university and in their likelihood to enrol.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

With many young Australians entering the labour force while still in school, it is important to understand how these experiences affect individual outcomes. The research presented in this report provides an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of the way Australian students in secondary schools combine study and work and how work patterns influence both their intention to enrol in university and their actual university enrolment.

The report looks at how young Australians make their way into the labour market and how these early working experiences affect students' work and study choices. The report sheds light on the role of peers in influencing pathways towards a university education. By including information about the school environment, such as the proportion of students in the same school who are working and those who intend to go on to university, we are able to test these peer effects.

Our chosen modelling approach captures the essentially dynamic nature of these decision processes and the impacts of both observed and unobserved factors on outcomes. (The model also takes sample attrition into account.) The specification allows us to see whether study and work will affect students' motivation for and the actual outcomes of higher education. We also include terms in the model that capture whether those students who are more or less likely to combine study and work are also intrinsically more or less likely to progress to university. This rich structure facilitates a better understanding of the implications of the study—work choices of students for subsequent education and employment outcomes.

We estimate models of education and work choices separately for boys and girls, using the first five waves of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) 1998 (Y98) cohort. This enables students' outcomes to be tracked over a five-year period, from Year 9 enrolment, until a year after the completion of secondary school.

Key findings

The following are the main findings to emerge from these analyses.

  • Overall, students are more likely to combine study and work as they progress in their schooling years. In Year 9, 79% of students did not work at all, but by Year 12, this had decreased to 44%. However, we also find that combining work and study is not a permanent state, with many students entering and exiting the workforce, as their circumstances dictate.
  • A student's choice of working while at school and their chances of enrolling at university are not only driven by characteristics such as ability, socioeconomic background and school environment, but also by the path they take. Their previous choice affects their subsequent school—work decisions and their educational outcomes.
  • Addressing the key question in the research project, we find that combining work and study in previous school years does not affect a student's desire to go to university, but it may affect their ability to do so. A key finding from this investigation is that working too many hours while at school is likely to hinder a student's likelihood of going to university, even if the intention to participate is unchanged. We found that those who worked intensively in Year 12 reduced their chance of securing a university position by approximately 11 and 21 percentage points, for boys and girls, respectively.
  • Combining some hours of work and study increases the probability of boys' actual enrolment in university by 5.3 percentage points, but does not have a significant effect on girls.
  • Peer effects play an important role in students' choices, with the proportion of students intending to go to university at school increasing both the intention for and the likelihood of university enrolment.
  • We also find that gender, type of school, ability, geographic location and socioeconomic background significantly affect both the intention for and actual enrolment in university, with the effect being much larger for girls than boys. For example, for a one-percentage-point increase in the proportion of students at school intending to enrol in universities, the probability of enrolling in university would be increased by 0.47 percentage points for boys and 0.85 percentage points for girls.

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