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Disadvantaged university students need more financial support on work placements

students walking around campus

Universities and employers should offer more financial support to disadvantaged students on work placements to help close equality gaps in graduate earnings, according to a new TASO report

The report reveals that disadvantaged students are less likely to take part in on-course industry work placements – known as ‘sandwich courses’ – due to low or unpaid work placements and inadequate financial support. 

This finding comes despite evidence suggesting that graduates who take part in a university course with some time in employment earn around £6,000 more than average full-time students three years after graduation.

Dr Omar Khan, Chief Executive, TASO (Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) said: 

“University students are facing unprecedented pressures – increasing rents, stagnating wages, extensive cost-of-living rises. This is doubly true for disadvantaged students who often don’t have a financial backstop to lean on when times are tough. 

“There is a clear link between students attending on-course work placements and better graduate earnings, but more work is needed to ensure these opportunities are accessible for all. Disadvantaged students cannot afford transport costs to and from employers, or relocation expenses – let alone living on low or unpaid placements. 

“If we are serious about improving employment outcomes, universities as well as employers need to look at the broader infrastructure for supporting students on such courses and offer targeted support for those who need it most.”

The report recommends higher education providers: 

  • Make more use of their institutional data and administrative datasets, such as the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, to track students into the labour market and evaluate employment outcomes.
  • Consider implementing specific support on student finances for learners intending to take part in a sandwich course. This relies on building strong relationships between providers, and with the professional sector, to agree collective action to address barriers and challenges that disadvantaged students face.
  • Bolster student support services to provide students with easily accessible information and employability skills within all students’ first and second year of study.
  • Provide comprehensive and tailored support to widening participation students considering a sandwich course, as well as those who have already enrolled in the course, at multiple points to ensure students are supported to start and complete the course.

TASO identified sandwich courses as a potential avenue for helping reduce equality gaps following a rapid evidence review exploring what works to reduce equality gaps in employment and employability.

The review found that disadvantaged graduates taught on full-time degrees were 10% less likely than their advantaged peers to be in professional-grade employment six months after graduation, the difference between the two groups was only 2% for sandwich degrees. 

Sandwich courses are typically defined as a student alternating between classroom instruction, full-time placements in industry and part-time work experience alongside their degree course. 

The research that informed TASO’s new report was conducted by the University of Surrey and Nottingham Trent University. 

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