Where do we fit in?

Student Parents looks into how students are classed by the government and university institutions, and how this affect student parents well being, and choices they make.

Do you find that there is never any support, advice or information out there that is specifically designed for you as a student parent at university?  Do you always get classed as a postgraduate, or mature student? When you are looking to fund your studies whilst being a parent, do you find there is nothing that is really tailored to your needs?

While you may not realise it, student parents face these problems every day, and the reason for this mainly comes from the fact there has been very little research into what student parents need. Universities and the government have records that are updated every year on students in the U.K, and specific groups of students like mature or international students, or students from low- income families. However, there has never been a national census to collect data on even the most simplest information about student parents. Because of this, universities do not know what student parents need, and often student parents are left isolated and on their own. ‘Student parents’ as an official group do not exist and therefore, nothing is ever done to help them.

In 2008, NUS conducted a survey, and tried to put student parents on the map. They interviewed over 2000 student parents, and put all the data together in a report that in 2009 they presented to the government. The report, titled ‘Meet the Parents’ highlighted a number of things:

  • No one knows exactly how many student parents there are in the UK, because university institutions are not required to collect this data. This makes it impossible to allocate funding and resources for student parents, because no one knows just how much is needed.
  • Of the 2000 student parents asked, the majority were female, mature (having started their course after they had turned 21) and studying part time.
  • 92% of student parents did not move home to study, choosing to stay near a support network, such as their parents. This can affect a student’s experience at university significantly, as universities across the U.K. vary so much in what they offer.
  • Student parents were nearly always enthusiastic about their course, despite facing numerous issues from the course organisation, such as timetabling, holidays, deadlines, placements and group work with other students without children.
  • 60% of student parents have thought about leaving their course. This number rises to 65% of lone parents.
  • One in 10 students said they felt isolated as a parent. Little time, no additional childcare and parenting responsibilities made it impossible to get involved with student events. Other issues included the lack of child-friendly events, the cost and alcohol that meant student parents did not feel part of the student community.

While this report, from 2009, clearly showed that something needed to be done, now in 2012, there is very little change. All the problems raised in the report still exist today. There is still no data regarding how many student parents there are at different universities, and from speaking to student parents myself, many had the same concerns as the 2000 students spoken to in the NUS survey.

Josina, a student parent who comes from Leeds, told Student Parents how she decided to go to Leeds university, because she wanted to remain close to her family. ‘I was going to go to Sheffield University with my oldest son, but when I fell pregnant with my second son I decided to go Leeds, because I’m from Leeds anyway and all my family are around here.’ Listen to her audioboo

Kaniz, an international student said ‘I have no money, and cannot afford university childcare. I am studying for a Masters in Chemistry. I am often in the lab and my son cannot come with me. There is no help from anyone, and I only really know my husband, who works. Who can I turn to?’ Read her story

When trying to find out if the government, or any universities have made changes since the NUS report, Student Parents got no responses. Bristol University did put in place a Widening Participation Strategy in 2009. Their plan said they aimed to create:

‘A diverse, socially representative and able student population experiencing an education that is intellectually demanding and provides skills relevant to the 21st century.’ (University Plan)

In the report they said the university wanted to change the perception of what attending Bristol meant. They wanted to include underrepresented groups and people who may be thinking twice about applying. It sounds good so far. However, the underrepresented groups Bristol then went on to name were: state school students, mature students, socio-economic groups, students from low participation areas, local students, minority ethnic students and disabled students. Nowhere in the report were students with dependents mentioned.

However, Student parents have found that, from next year, Leeds University will ask if you are a student parent on the university registration form. This means that for the first time ever, one university in the U.K. will be able to tell you how many student parents they have recruited in one year.

We also spoke to Rosie, who is part of the Diverse Working Group at Leeds. She told us how the student union has this year put aside funds specifically for student parents and many improvements are being made around the university. They are making children’s activity packs which will be available at the Union, and there will from next year be a child- friendly menu in the on- campus bar. We’ll have more information on all of Leeds’ plans for student parents soon.

While it is only a small step, we hope this is the start of a wider acceptance of student parents at universities, and that more will become available to student parents in the future.

Read the NUS report in full here:
http://www.nus.org.uk/en/news/news/meet-the-parents-/

Lillie

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