by LISA ANDREWARTHA
Balancing the responsibilities of being a parent and a student can place high demands on time, energy and financial resources. Census data indicate that more than one in ten tertiary students look after dependent children while studying.
We surveyed a national sample of 578 students who were parents to examine their experiences in higher education. Our research found that these students had developed a range of qualities through their parenting roles that were translatable to their studies. Many of the student parents had developed effective organisational and communication skills, and showed enhanced commitment, compassion and endurance. Student parents also had a positive impact on the broader experience of other students due to their diverse life experiences and willingness to take on leadership and advocacy roles.
Common challenges for student parents included: financial hardship; difficulties splitting time between caring, studying and working; limited childcare options; and stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic imposed added pressure on many student parents through disruptions to their own study arrangements, combined with remote learning and increased care requirements for children. A substantial portion of student parents were forced to reduce their study load to manage their changed domestic commitments.
In general, student parents felt that course structures and study requirements could be more flexible and accommodating to their needs and schedules. Suggestions included: preferential access to timetables; increased flexibility around the location and timing of placements; and simplified special consideration processes.
Many of our survey participants expressed the need for increased financial support to help cover their living and study expenses and allow them to reduce time spent in paid work.
On a practical level, student parents could also benefit from more affordable and accessible on-campus childcare arrangements, an increased number of parenting facilities, including feeding and baby changing rooms, and reserved parking bays for students with parenting and other caring responsibilities. Collectively, evidence suggests that further work is required to recognise the value of student parents and inform future policy development and research.
This piece is based on selected findings from research by Lisa Andrewartha, Dr Elizabeth Knight, Dr Andrea Simpson and Hannah Beattie for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University
Lisa Andrewartha, Senior Advisor, Research and Strategy, Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research, La Trobe University, firstname.lastname@example.org