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About this book

Offers practical information and motivational support to help parents in higher education successfully deal with the challenges they face, and make juggling their parent and student commitments less arduous. Written by a recent student parent graduate, it covers issues from funding and childcare, to managing insecurities and future directions.

Table of Contents

‘Going Back to School’

Frontmatter

1. Access to Higher Education

Abstract
The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a qualification that aims to prepare students for what is ahead at university.(6,7) On the course, you should be able to gain an advantage in respect of matters such as personal and academic organisational, research, and time planning skills. As the Access to Higher education website(6) states, it is designed for adults (defined as those aged 19 and above) who would like to go to university but left school (however long ago) without the necessary qualifications. Indeed, one of the key features of Access to HE is that most courses do not require previous qualifications in order to start, as was explained to me by one of the student parents I interviewed: Some student parents told me that when they began their studies they never considered the possibility that they would ever get to degree level and it seems that some student parents can also feel that they are not even clever enough to study. Many student parents who complete Access to HE diplomas see their lives changing in ways that they had never believed possible.(6) Indeed, the diplomas are well suited to adults who are changing direction after some work experience or previous family commitments.(6) For instance, one student parent had been made redundant and had been advised to go ‘back to school’ and get her grades up because she wanted to do Psychology — something she eventually achieved.
Helen Owton

Entering Higher Education

Frontmatter

2. Student Pregnancy

Abstract
With more mature and part-time students entering into HE it is likely that increasing numbers of students might become pregnant or have a child during the course of their studies. It is also likely that mature students are usually working part-time with many juggling studies, family life and caring responsibilities (for example, care of their partners or siblings or care of elderly relatives). In addition, many students who become pregnant are not traditional ‘mature students’. Nonetheless, pregnancy is a time of physical change, shifting relationships (a particularly vulnerable time for couple relationships) and figuring out who you are (parenting becomes an identity project). Combining pregnancy with keeping up with your studies may seem like an even more daunting experience. However, many universities are starting to believe that having caring responsibilities or children need not, in itself, be a barrier to succeeding at university. Policies are emerging for students who are parents or carers which reflect the greater need for support and flexibility for student parents and these will be highlighted in this chapter to make you aware of what your entitlements might be. What follows first, however, is a personal account from a student (Rosie) who found out she was pregnant in the first year, only a few weeks into her degree.
Helen Owton

3. Becoming a Student Parent

Abstract
Becoming a student parent can be a daunting experience, particularly if you have been out of education for a long time. Many student parents have been out of education for a period of longer than five years.(7) However, there are many young student parents who have not been out of education for such a long time (particularly if they have become pregnant during their studies) who may face a different set of challenges. They may find themselves falling between two groups, being neither ‘traditional’ students nor ‘mature’ students. Previous research(18) suggests that female student parents, in particular, experience significant pressure to downplay their ‘student’ identity while at home and, at the same time, to retain their role as the main caregiver irrespective of the demands of their university course, although more recent research(2) suggests that this is not always the case. Student parents might also have disabilities or be International students which means facing additional challenges. Whatever the individual circumstances, becoming a student parent can mean a slow, time-consuming and strenuous adjustment phase which varies from student to student. This chapter describes the challenges and strengths for various student parents, describes the nature of the system, the demands placed on student parents, and expectations to help prepare student parents prior to starting their degree.
Helen Owton

4. Funding Your Studies

Abstract
This section highlights the considerations (such as accommodation, childcare, living expenses) and preparation (such as making an appointment with the university’s Guild Advice centre) necessary when beginning university. Suggestions are made as to where student parents can apply for funding (for example, the Parents’ Learning Allowance and the Access to Learning Fund) and also how to be resourceful during your studies (for example, by saving money). This section also considers the hardships involved in managing debts, student loans and working part-time. It is extremely difficult to keep up to date with entitlements as these change periodically and the paperwork can be extremely frustrating. It feels like studying (when you get the time and space) is a breeze when compared with the complexities of the benefits legislation. It can be incredibly stressful managing this part of a student parent’s life. This section aims therefore to provide a comprehensive and informative resource for student parents with the aim of preparing student parents for university life and to offer some recommendations about how to cope with the inevitable pressures.
Helen Owton

Juggling Acts: Balancing the Lifestyle

Frontmatter

5. Balancing Social Life

Abstract
There are a number of stereotypical pleasures that are typically associated with ‘student life’: lots of time, lots of parties, lots of fun and carefree experiences. However, the modern student experience continues to change: what was a fun, carefree experience is now peopled by a more hard-working population with its focus on achieving a good degree and improving its job prospects. Socialising at university is on the decline, with more than 60 per cent of students socialising for no more than two hours a day and only 12 per cent socialising for more than five hours a day.(19) The same survey shows that 14 per cent do not socialise at all.(19) This could be because there are more mature students (1 in 4 forms a significant proportion of the part- and full-time student population), students have more responsibilities (for example, part-time work), have less time, commute, and have tighter budgets. In addition, very little is spent on socialising, with 75 per cent (up from 62 per cent in 2008) of students spending less than £20 a week on socialising.(18) This seems to suggest that student parents are not missing out on a ‘student lifestyle’ at all.
Helen Owton

6. Balancing Childcare

Abstract
Since starting to write this book, I have become a university lecturer and have come across many other student parents who find university life more challenging than those without children. The challenges of student parents also involve managing all of the demands of childcare, making informed decisions on the various types of childcare, and how different universities offer childcare facilities and certain amounts of funding (for example, childcare grants) is a hard, arduous and re-evaluating task. There are differing types of childcare available — such as nursery, childminders, babysitters — and there are various benefits and disadvantages associated with these different types of childcare.
Helen Owton

7. Time Management

Abstract
It is difficult for most students to manage their time at university. Being a student parent brings additional difficulties (such as child sickness and finding childcare during half-terms). Being disciplined and drawing on your own inner strengths can really help you through difficult times. You are provided with a structure by the university which enables you to take small steps (assignments) to reaching the long-term goals (degree). Structuring time wisely and constructively is vital, although often I have felt that I have ‘stumbled’ through my studies. Plans can be broken down into daily, weekly, monthly and yearly phases with degrees of flexibility and contingency plans. As a student parent, when making plans it is important to recognise and be aware that plans will change daily, weekly, monthly and yearly and that you should expect the unexpected. I treated my studies like a job so I always drew up plans, but by the end of the week they were a complete mess where I had to change things around (which usually meant scribbling them into next week’s plan) for various reasons (child sickness, lack of sleep, dealing with unpaid bills and so on). Nonetheless, making plans and setting goals is a motivational technique which can help you manage your time well.
Helen Owton

8. Stress Management

Abstract
Being a student parent can be stressful, leading to potential health problems which need to be taken seriously. Not only are you a full-time parent, but you are also probably studying full-time or working part-time whilst studying part-time or even studying full-time, working part-time; also being a full-time parent. Obviously, life as a student parent is going to be stressful at times and a few ways in which stress could be managed are offered so you can take care of your mind and body, but ultimately you need to find something that works for you.
Helen Owton

9. Supporting Student Parents

Abstract
Student parents are an enthusiastic, motivated, purposeful and inspiring group of students who achieve in the face of adversity. However, universities and tutors could be better equipped to deal with and support the growing number of student parents by being more aware about the demands they deal with. In this section I outline how you can raise awareness of student parents as a group and how you can ask for support from universities and tutors.
Helen Owton

Future Directions

Frontmatter

10. Postgraduate Student Parents

Abstract
This chapter provides insights to others considering postgraduate studies, highlighting the difficult decisions and the different demands that you might face as a student parent in this situation. The first section focuses on Master’s level study and this is followed by a section highlighting the considerations you might need to be aware of when thinking about doing a PhD. Firstly, I draw on my personal experience to show you what an experience of doing a Master’s might be like.
Helen Owton

11. After Graduation

Abstract
This section focuses on ‘getting ahead’ for when you finish your degree: networking, getting experience, finding your own path and careers advice, which can help you build a successful CV. The key message in this section is not to be afraid to ask for something, or ask questions: If you don’t ask, you may not find out. Once you have completed university it can be a hugely anxious and uncertain time; a void.
Helen Owton
Additional information