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NUS Scotland launches new report into experiences of student parents

Monday 20-06-2016 - 10:19

NUS Scotland is today launching a new report into the experiences of student parents, "The Bairn Necessities".

  • Student parents are being left out of pocket by an inadequate support system. Many are caught in a trap between taking on student support funding, or losing access to vital benefits.
  • Institutions are unable to offer the flexibility and additional support student parents need, but they don’t even collect the necessary information.
  • No student should lose out because they’re trying to make a better life for themselves and their children.

NUS Scotland is today launching a new report into the experiences of student parents, The Bairn Necessities (see notes). The report – based on the largest survey ever undertaken of student parents in Scotland, as well as interviews with students and freedom of information requests to universities and colleges - highlights the issues that student parents face, including failings in the support system, which leave student parents out of pocket when accessing education.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Student parents face a significant shortfall between the student support funding they receive and the actual costs of childcare. For college students, this ranged from £20 to £400 a month (and an average of £123), but university students reported shortfalls of between £100 and, in one case, £1000 a month (and an average of £382). Across both university and college, the most common monthly shortfall was £200. 
  • More than half of respondents were mature students - previous NUS Scotland research has shown that this is the group least likely to access a student loan, and they have little to no bursary support available. However, student parents in higher education lose their benefits, regardless of whether they take out a student loan or not. 
  • Further education student parents have the choice of applying for a standard bursary, which doesn’t differentiate between those with additional costs related to parenting and those without, or continuing to receive benefits – but not both.
  • There is an information gap at universities and colleges, and many simply don’t even know how many student parents they have, meaning they are unable to offer additional, targeted support. Only 3 colleges and 9 universities were able to provide information on numbers of student parents. 
  • In those institutions that do record the data (3 colleges and 9 universities), parents made up between 7-19% of the student population. However, even these figures are often made up only of those parents who apply for childcare funds, and the true figures could be higher yet. 
  • The differences in university and college term times and schools, and the lack of affordable childcare or necessary support for student parents to access this, means that student parents are potentially forced to miss significant amounts of study time. 

Flaws and inflexibility in the student support and benefits system mean that some students remain on benefits, believing they are financially better off doing so, rather than accessing student support. In certain instances, students have even been discouraged from higher education. One focus group respondent stated: “I’ve been advised by the Job Centre to quit university [so I could qualify for Carer’s Allowance]. That defeats the whole point – I went to uni so I’m not on benefits my whole life.” 

The report highlights the need for government and funding bodies, universities, and colleges to be understanding of, and responsive to, the circumstances and needs of student parents. The report highlights how the gaps and flaws in the current student support system – both financial and pastoral – are exacerbated for student parents, and makes a number of recommendations to address these. 

Key recommendations from the report include: 

  • Scottish Government should use new and existing powers to make the interaction between student support and benefits a positive one; 
  • SFC, SAAS, and the Scottish Government should review student support for parents, and in particular the system of discretionary childcare funding; 
  • Colleges and universities should be required to collect data on student parents, and use this to provide additional, targeted support; 
  • A comprehensive review of the allocation and provision of nursery places at on-campus and local facilities should be undertaken to ensure the needs to student parents are being met; 

Commenting on the report, Emily Beever, NUS Scotland women’s officer, said: 
“I’m really proud to be launching our Bairn Necessities report, which represents the most in-depth research conducted into the experiences of student parents in Scotland to date. The findings in the report are based on the views of hundreds of students with children, from institutions the length and breadth of Scotland, and pose some serious questions for government and funding bodies, universities, and colleges. 
 
“If we want to truly widen access to our institutions, and ensure that any potential student in Scotland has the support they need to access and succeed in education, we need to start addressing the issues that affect the diverse, and often challenging, circumstances, those students have – and that includes student parents. 
 
“Respondents told us how the current support system isn’t fit for purpose, leaving them out of pocket by hundreds of pounds each month, which isn’t being matched by the necessary support from government or their institution. Others are torn between missing valuable class time to look after sick children, or face simply unaffordable additional childcare costs. Many are caught in a trap, between student support and a loss of benefits, and some have even been advised to not even consider higher education in order to remain on benefits.
 
“And there’s a responsibility on universities and colleges to provide the necessary flexibility and support.  Too often during our research we came across parents who were worried about taking a day off to look after an ill child in case it affected their bursary, or struggling to attend classes during school holidays risking their course progress.
 
“No one should be left out of pocket in trying to get an education, not least those who have children dependent on them. The Scottish Government have announced they’ll be launching a review into student support, and it’s vital that student parents are a part of that. We need serious reform so that no student loses out because they’re trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. And there’s a huge responsibility on the part of universities and colleges, too – to ensure they’re collecting information on student parents at their institution, and are able to target and offer the vital, additional support and flexibility and they need.”
…ends

Notes:
1.    The full report can be found here: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/the-bairn-necessities

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