Student Parents Experience: UK versus Denmark

Support for student parents in Britain seems to be hit and miss. There
are significant differences between how British universities cater for students with children. Research by Brunel University  casts a light on the experiences of student parents in Britain in a series of comparisons between institutions in the UK and their counterparts in Denmark.

The research, Students – parents and higher education: a cross national comparison, carried out by professor of Education Rachel Brooks has been comparing UK and Danish institutions and their treatment of student parents.

In an article for the Guardian’s higher education network Brooks states, “Over recent years, politicians have argued that having a young child should not be seen as a barrier to participating in education.”

Widening Participation – Breaking Down the Barriers

The labour government took steps to try to include student parents into their widening participation initiatives such as Aimhigher. These initiatives were designed to break down barriers to education and to make education more inclusive.

However, Brooks claims that, “despite these high-profile policy initiatives, we know little about the experiences of those who do decide to pursue a degree while their children are young.”  Emma Curtes a research coordinator at Loughborough University told student parents this is because there is very little in the way of targeted data collection of this information. Emma said, “Universities have a responsibility to provide widening participation activities to try to make a degree more accessible. Student parents are one of the target groups however; there is a problem when trying to find out information about their participation in higher education as all widening participation students get grouped together in the research.” This has consequently made it very difficult to gain a clear picture of the experiences of student parents when they are studying for a degree.

The Data Deficit

The research highlights the need to fill this data gap in order for UK universities to offer a better service to student parents.  Professor Brooks demonstrates how the research was approached, “over the past year at Brunel we have been conducting research on student-parents, focusing on their decision-making processes when they first decide to embark on a degree, and their experiences once at university. We have also been interested in the impact of the wider political context on this group of students – and so have compared the experiences of student-parents at two universities in the UK with their counterparts at two universities in Denmark.”

By making a comparison between universities in the UK and Denmark Professor Brooks is able to reveal different approaches to student parent support. “Our research has revealed clear differences between the UK and Denmark in relation to both the support offered to student-parents and staff attitudes towards this group of students; it has also highlighted interesting variations between UK institutions. One of the universities in the sample, which we have called Older University in recognition of its long history and prestigious reputation, provided significant practical support to its student-parent population. This included: several nurseries, holiday clubs for school-age children, dedicated bursaries, a guide to services within the university and the local area and a regular newsletter.  However, analysis of university websites would suggest that Older University is quite atypical in the UK in offering this degree of support. The level of structural support found at Newer University (the other UK university with a less prestigious reputation) is perhaps more representative of the sector as a whole. It did not offer any dedicated childcare facilities or information packs, and no financial support was offered.”

Hit and Miss

Student Parents spoke to Alex, a Widening Participation Coordinator at a Russell Group university, “I’ve worked in similar roles at several institutions and my work means I have to collaborate with a number of different universities. I agree that the level of support definitely varies. Some widening participation departments do the minimum requirement and nothing more. It is very hit and miss.”

Professor Brooks research argues that, “within a higher education system that is market-led but also subject to considerable government pressure to widen participation, it is rational for higher status institutions that do not have a problem recruiting students with excellent academic credentials to provide more financial and other structural support as part of an attempt to attract non-traditional students.”

The research goes into greater detail on the differences in the UK university system and the seemingly fair and more consistent Danish system. However, what is abundantly clear is that for UK student parents shopping around and doing your homework is the only way to be sure you pick a supportive university.

Katie

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1 Comment

  1. Jo

     /  March 26, 2012

    Great website. It’s nice to know there are others in my situation. Loving the news page and the useful links in a real help. Looking forward to your next post

    Reply

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