Being unable to work during term time is one challenge, but when academia infringes on your holidays so much that earning enough to survive becomes additionally stressful, it becomes a significant issue.Roger Blackwell / Flickr /

My grandparents own an Irish pub in the heart of the East Midlands. I vividly recall my grandmother saying to me that it should be compulsory for all teenagers to carry out temporary placement in a small village pub. Forget the big city internships, people needed to build their social skills by talking to the regulars, understand what it’s like to earn their own money and learn practical lessons beyond the confines of A-Level specifications. And so naturally I took her advice: ever since I have been able to, I have worked in our family pub. Before university, I knew that I had to earn a large amount of money and fast to afford it, so I embarked on my next financial journey to McDonald’s. Despite our tumultuous relationship, this job has provided financial stability, allowing me to live a relatively worry-free life at Cambridge, paying rent, indulging in overpriced Caffè Neros and going on regular nights out.

Juggling a job in the vacation with degree work, however, has proved a different experience. Balancing a few shifts a week at the pub didn’t negatively impact my A-Level experience. Having always been good at time management, I quite enjoyed the routine of school, work, play, sleep. Before I started at Cambridge, I had no idea that students weren’t allowed to work. The idea that an institution could exert such control over one’s life seemed bizarre. That was until I got here and realised it would be, although not impossible, quite the difficulty. While a friend at home smugly suggested that if I spent the time that I did socialising at a job, it would be feasible, what would be the point of Cambridge if it was (uni) work and (work) work, and not work and play? As evident by now, I’m a big advocate for all teenagers to experience some form of employment, but the coexistence of work and Cambridge proves nearly impossible.

Our counterparts at Oxford faced criticism for a patronising thread on “How to build work experience”. “The tweet suggests “part-time jobs can be an excellent way to gain work experience while studying.” While this sparked Twitter backlash, the platform itself swiftly responded with its passive-aggressive context clarification feature: “The University of Oxford does not allow students to take up part-time jobs in term time. They can, however, work and take up internships during term holidays.”

“It’s not a holiday from Cambridge; you leave the place called Cambridge, not the university, and thus, work never stops”

Even in my first year at Cambridge, working during the holidays wasn’t a particularly taxing endeavour. However, second year came as a harsh reality check. It felt peculiar. From week one I became aware that I would face challenges juggling both work and academic responsibilities during the holidays. As anticipated, I reduced my shifts, in the hope to meet both my academic demands and earn a (student) living. Fearing I sound too much like the Tiktoker who faced backlash for lamenting her 9-5, it raises a valid question nonetheless: why are we part of a system that makes it extremely difficult to chart our own course while still achieving academic success?

Being unable to work during term time is one challenge, but when academia infringes on your holidays so much that earning enough to survive becomes additionally stressful, it becomes a significant issue. Although perhaps calling it ‘holidays’; is misleading. I’ll always remember the academic who kindly pointed out that we refer to it as the ‘vacation period’ here, not because we are fond of our friends over the pond, but because this period essentially involves vacating Cambridge. It’s not a holiday from Cambridge; you leave the place called Cambridge, not the university, and thus, work never stops.

This arrangement may suit students whose parents can comfortably cover tuition and living costs, allowing them to focus solely on their studies. However, what about those students who have no choice but to work? It’s also productive to broaden our definition of work, namely to non-enjoyable activities that divert our attention from uni work. For instance, taking care of relatives constitutes work, even if it is unpaid.

Arguably, one of the notable aspects of the university is the financial support it provides through grants. Essentially, it functions as a form of income for students without the need to engage in employment. Cambridge places significant value on academic excellence, and if an external commitment, such as a job, hinders a student with potential from achieving good grades, the university, in typical fashion, is inclined to throw money at the issue. In this scenario, the approach usually proves effective. It alleviates students of financial concerns to some extent, enabling them to focus more on their academic pursuits.

“When friends back home ask me why I don’t work at uni and I respond that you’re simply not allowed”

Despite the restrictions that the university has laid out, there are evidently individuals who continue to work. When friends back home ask me why I don’t work at university and I respond that you’re simply not allowed, it’s always met with the response: “but how would they know?”. And I suppose this is a fair judgement. How would they? And would anybody really care? These individuals discretely manage to go unnoticed, and all I can express for them is the utmost admiration. It’s also worth noting that in certain cases, colleges may waive the ban and permit students to work during term time in exceptional circumstances. However, true to Cambridge’s style, such exceptions are infrequent.

Given all this, you’ll understand my frustration when I read this Camfess. “My linkedin namesake works in Aldi. My uni mates actually think it’s a possibilty. Tbf I did mess up academically and personally but come on.”

Three likes later, it’s safe to conclude that this Camfess wasn’t well-received. The reason I refer to it is because we have a responsibility to challenge the disturbingly common attitude that full-time hospitality and retail workers are inferior simply because we attend a prestigious university. This mindset is unfortunately prevalent in wider society; historically, waiters were referred to as ‘garçon’ over in France and the pretentious have a poor reputation of mistreating servers. I vividly recall my mum telling me that a person’s true character is revealed in how they treat a waiter — a principle I’ve used to discern whom I should be wary of.


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I’m not suggesting that every student without job experience will engage in mistreating waiters. However, it’s disconcerting to see that there are individuals among us who perceive this form of classism as so commonplace that they feel justified in airing such sentiments on a university-wide social media platform. Fortunately, my faith was partially restored when they were ratioed. One hundred and nine people expressed agreement that there’s nothing wrong with working at Aldi, and someone else highlighted the positive aspects of the company’s graduate program, stating that it is considered “one of the better ones”.

For a place infatuated with academic work and the prospect of securing a prosperous job in the future, the university still grapples with a nuanced and intricate relationship with work, or certain types of work at least. Cambridge finds itself entangled in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ironically, those harbouring these classist attitudes, who could benefit from experiencing a job to gain a genuine understanding and a bit of humility, are precisely within the confines of one of the two universities that ironically places restrictions on students from working during term time. It therefore becomes more necessary than ever that Cambridge takes on the job of fostering a more holistic understanding of success.