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

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ISSN 1329-2676


by Craig Applegate and Anne Daly Division of Business, Law and Information Sciences University of Canberra

* The research reported in this paper was approved by the Human Ethics Committee at the University of Canberra. We also discussed the project with the Student Association and Student Administration at the University. We would like to thank Tim Bradley, Mandy Yap and especially Rebecca Cassells for their excellent research assistance. We would also like to thank Diane Adams, Paula Higgins, Coralie McCormack, David Sneddon, Gerald Tarrant, Adam Verwey, Margaret Wallace and an anonymous referee for their comments and assistance on the project. The paper has benefited from comments following presentations at the University of Canberra, a Conference on Teaching Economics in Auckland New Zealand, the annual Conference of Economists held in Canberra and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London. .

the Centre for Labour Market Research, The University of Western Australia, Crawley WA 6009 Tel: (08) 6488 8672 Fax: (08) 6488 8671 email:

The Centre wishes to acknowledge the support of The Western Australian Department of Education and Training

Abstract  This paper 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 that 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 22 hours per week has a negative effect.

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. McInnes, 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 42 per cent to 51 per cent. By 2001, this share had risen to 73 per cent (McInnes and Hartley 2002). Among those working in 1999, over half worked for 11 or more hours per week compared with 40 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 and Walker (2004)). The British literature has focussed 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 and Walker (2004)). This paper 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, 6,970 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. McInnes (2001) summarised the...
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