"Our first boat for rowing currently have over fifteen hours of training a week."Louis Ashworth

One day in the summer before starting at Cambridge I sat filling out several forms sent to me by my college. I remember feeling irritated by the task – it was my day off, the weather was peachy, and I didn’t want to spend an hour inside laboriously filling out my medical, financial and personal details.

It was a fairly monotonous task (yes, I will pay for any damages to my room; no, I don’t have any allergies) until I read through a form which contracted me to not undertaking part-time work during my degree at Cambridge. It was my college’s ‘conditions of membership’ form, which read, in accordance with University policy: “No undergraduate student is allowed to undertake teaching or other regular paid work during term time without the written permission of her Tutor.”

“No undergraduate student is allowed to undertake teaching or other regular paid work during term time without the written permission of her Tutor”

What that form triggered in me was a feeling of resentment towards Cambridge as an institution that seemed designed for students who had grown up with the privilege of never needing to ever earn their own money. I got my first part-time job the summer I was thirteen: awkward and gangly standing behind a checkout in my local supermarket. Over the course of the coming years I worked most of the classic teenage jobs: waiting tables, scrubbing pots, pulling pints and catering weddings. Let me labour the point: I don’t resent having had to work as a teenager. At home it’s the norm. The form struck me as symbolic of an ingrained assumption about the financial backgrounds of students likely to apply to and attend Cambridge.

I always expected that I would continue to have a part-time job at university, which was an idea that my parents fully supported. I have a vivid memory of my mum imploring me not to quit playing the piano, not because she enjoyed listening to me butcher Bach, Chopin and Mozart, but because of “the easy money you’ll be able to make teaching little kids to play while you’re at uni! Trust me Belle, it will beat working in a bar.” And there I was, sitting at the table signing a contract promising I wouldn’t have a job while at Cambridge. It seemed almost patronising – by that point I’d juggled jobs and studies for six years. I thought I was fully apt at managing both my time and my bank balance. Cambridge’s ban on part-time work put an end to this juggling act.

“I thought I was fully apt at managing both my time and my bank balance. Cambridge’s ban on part-time work put an end to this juggling act”

Cambridge’s stance on students working is clearly stated on their financial support webpage. “The University takes the view that our students should not work during term-time – it’s important that you have an appropriate work-life balance, and we offer a wide range of financial support to ensure you don’t have to.” It’s true that the bursary system is incredibly generous in comparison to financial support offered by the majority of other British universities: Oxford and Cambridge combined are estimated to spend a total of £23 million on bursaries for lower income students each year. It’s also true that the sheer workload compressed into short eight-week terms means we would have far less time to have a job, if we were allowed them.

On arrival, I quickly realised that I was encouraged to split my time between extracurriculars and academic work, as part of the aforementioned “work-life balance”. Unlike paid work, there are no formal limitations on the number of hours undergraduates can devote to extracurriculars. As long as they can keep up with the monumental number of academic deadlines, students devote themselves to pursuing sport, drama, student politics, activism or any other of the multitude of activities we are lucky to be able to engage in. A friend of mine who is the JCR President told me she does an average of three hours of JCR admin each day. Our first boat for rowing currently have over fifteen hours of training a week, a number set to increase after winter finishes. If the reason for not wanting students to work is because of the time it takes away from studying it is paradoxical to allow them to devote so much time to extracurriculars.


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Mountain View

Extracurricular enrichment

This is not to say that extracurriculars are redundant; on the contrary, they are undeniably valuable. They make the university experience more fulfilling by forging bonds between different students and expanding our scope of activity beyond our academic subjects (as well as keeping us sane, arguably). The problem is not students devoting time to hobbies. However, the policy banning part-time work suggests that spending your free time earning money is somehow inferior to choosing extracurriculars, feeding into the assumption that Cambridge simply isn’t a place for students from lower income backgrounds.

Working part time during your degree should not be seen as lesser than devoting your spare time to extracurriculars. The policy which bans Cambridge students from having part-time jobs is a luxury that many lower income students quite literally cannot afford.

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