In a time when more and more parents are becoming students – and indeed, more and more students are becoming parents – I think it’s time for a run-down of what universities can and should be doing, to become more parent-friendly.
My experience at Glyndwr University couldn’t have been more positive, so it was easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that every university does a great job of supporting student parents. Unfortunately, that’s not true, and plenty of people have found themselves facing a serious lack of support from their university or college.
In light of that, I’ve put together a list of what universities can do to be more parent-friendly.
- Don’t treat student parents as a “problem”. This is arguably the most important point on the list. Most student parents already feel the pressure of trying to balance parenthood with studying. They don’t need the added pressure of knowing that their university sees them as an obstacle to be overcome. It has always stuck with me that when I told my lecturers I was pregnant, they said “congratulations” at the end of the meeting. It meant the world to me, because they could easily have complained about the extra paperwork I was causing them, but they didn’t.
- Provide adequate facilities. Sometimes, it’s an inescapable fact of life that kids will end up on campus. Whether they’re waiting in the canteen for a parent to finish class, or sitting in the library while Mum or Dad works on an essay, it stands to reason that if you have student parents at your university, their children are going to need to spend a little time there too. If you implement baby changing facilities, your student parent population will be eternally grateful.
- Create a culture of acceptance. My own university’s policy states that up to the age of 26 weeks, breastfed babies can be brought into classes. Inevitably, there will be some students who disagree with that and state that they shouldn’t have to see breastfeeding on campus. Universities should show their acceptance and support for breastfeeding on campus, and encourage others to do the same.
- Be understanding. No-one is asking for special treatment, but a little compassion goes a long way. If someone comes to you asking for an extension on an essay because their child is poorly, don’t assume they’re trying to skive. Having a sick toddler is exhausting, and definitely not conducive to trying to write an essay. A one-size-fits-all policy definitely doesn’t work when it comes to extra support with studying.
- Offer relevant advice. The student finance system is a nightmare to navigate as a parent – it’s important that departments within the university like Funding & Welfare are aware of the additional support available to student parents, and how to apply for it – and what effect this can have on benefits and tax credits, which many student parents have no choice but to rely on.
- Stamp out bullying. For any number of reasons – jealousy, anger, injustice at seeing student parents get “special treatment” – fellow students can often resent student parents, and make no attempt to stay quiet about it. This can be a real dent in the confidence of student parents – especially when the bullying involves references to “abandoning” the child in daycare, and the student parent being “selfish” – so it’s important to be vigilant, and crack down on this as quickly as possible.
- Celebrate their achievements. Don’t treat student parents like a dirty secret that needs to be hidden away for fear of it damaging the university’s reputation – instead, celebrate the achievement of your student parents, and show how great you are at supporting and encouraging them! Glyndwr University have supported me in every interview and media appearance I’ve done as a result of being a student parent, which has meant a lot to me as I know they’re not ashamed of me!
- Don’t guilt-trip. Sometimes childcare falls through, or the child is too poorly to go to nursery, and the parent has no choice but to miss class. Treat these students like you’d treat someone who’d missed class for personal illness – not like someone who missed class because they were hungover. Telling them that they risk damaging their education helps no-one – chances are, the thought has already crossed their mind.
It’s easy to read this post as if it’s demanding special treatment for student parents, but it really isn’t – just reasonable adjustments, to give them as much chance as any other student to complete their degree to the best of their ability.
I feel so proud to have graduated with a First after having my daughter halfway through university – and I’m very aware that had I not been to such a supportive uni, the result wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.
What do you think? Did your university do enough to support student parents? What other support would you like to see in place for students with children?