What if being a student paid minimum wage?

Five Peak contributors took note of how much work studenthood entails, and we did some math

Image courtesy of meetingsnet.com

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor

Participants: Hannah Davis, Mishaa Khan, Gabrielle McLaren, Sakina Nazarali, and Amena Salman.

Have you ever filled in a form and listed your occupation as “student”? The irony of this hit me last semester: an occupation is a job or a profession, something you do for a living. Being a student definitely keeps you occupied, but you aren’t compensated for all the time you put in. In fact, an increasing amount of students are running around the job market to finance their studies (48.8% of us in 2016-2017). But for the sake of argument, let’s say that being a student is an occupation: how much would we professional students hypothetically be getting paid?

Well, here’s a rough estimate. Five participants tracked our hours for a week, tallied up a week’s worth of unpaid labour, multiplied that by B.C.’s $12.65 minimum wage, and filled in a short survey to reflect on our experience. And that’s considering that a minimum wage is different from a living wage, which is calculated from “the hourly rate at which a household meets its needs” according to Policy Alternative Canada, whose living wage calculator generated a $20.15 living wage for those in Metro Vancouver.


What wasn’t counted

Granted, our methodology isn’t perfect. All five participants are human; perhaps we forgot to write something down, note a bathroom break, or maybe consider a few unacademic tabs that might’ve magically opened on Google Chrome while we were working. Additionally, transit to and from class didn’t get included in our final hours, and that changes things. Volunteer hours aren’t seen in the table below, nor are the hours we spent working our actual paid jobs since technically we’d already been compensated for that labour.

Additionally, our tracked hours were affected by one-off events and due dates. The time of the semester where we “punched our clock” also affected our business. Overall though, we all reported back that we’d had an average week (with an average “6” on a scale of 1-10).  

You’ll also see from our fast facts that we’re all unique. We take a different amount of classes, get there differently, some of us work or volunteer while some of us don’t, some of us live at home while others manage households . . .  Ultimately, if we were going to push this experiment further, this would effect the dispensable income we would all get.


Fast facts about our participants

Mishaa Mishaa volunteers as a lab assistant and is an exec of the SFU Muslim Student Associaton, works part time, writes casually for The Peak, and lives on residence. She is taking four classes.
Amena Amena lives at home, and is dedicated to school full-time. She is taking four classes.
Sakina Sakina lives on campus, works part-time, writes casually for The Peak, and volunteers with SFU UNICEF. She is taking four classes.
Hannah Hannah Davis lives on campus, works three part-time jobs, and is part of SFU’s Kin Games Team. She also volunteers with the SFU Dance team. She is taking four classes.
Gabrielle Gabrielle lives off-campus, works two part-time jobs, and volunteers with the World Literature Student Conference and the Student Learning Commons. She is taking five classes.


You can have a look at our results here: Student Hour Data Chart

Closing thoughts from participants

“I am quite lucky that I currently do not have a job [ . . . ] it makes me upset that we [students] have no time to enjoy the day and take time to our self. Being a full time student is the same as working full/part time, it is an occupation. We spend time each day working on our projects and assignments, with constant pressure and stress. Being a student is like working but instead of making thousands of dollars we pay thousands of dollars.” – Amena

“I realized how much time I was wasting and how easily I would get distracted because I would constantly have to click pause my timer every time I took a break.” – Mishaa

‘[My tracked time was] way over expected. I never thought that I would be spending so much time studying and doing study related stuff. [ . . . ] What stuck out to me the most is how many hours a day I was busy doing things to progress academically, forgetting to give time to myself and caring for myself. By far, the work hours I spent per day especially during the weekdays stuck out to me the most.” – Sakina

“I wonder what professors would think looking over this information. It’s not their job to soften up their classes or make them easy for us, but I think this sheds light on why students as a collective are so stressed, so tired, and sometimes so pushy about our grades. This is what we do, and we do a lot of it on top of a lot of other stuff.” – Gabrielle