Here the Welfare campaign interviews Johnny Davis on supporting and representing student parents at Birmingham Guild.
How many student parents are there at Birmingham Guild?
We don’t know the figures this year unfortunately as the University - like most others - does not collect that data. However we have got the University to agree to adding two questions to the registration process for all students next year. These questions are 'do you have any dependants under 16?' and 'do you have any dependants 16 and over?'. This will also allow us to look more broadly at student carers.
At the Guild, we have carried out some market research and just over 4% of students said they had dependents. That's about 700 students on campus.
What's the biggest issue that student parents face?
There are a range of issues that student parents face, but there are several priorities that we are currently working on:
- Information - student parents have indicated that knowing where to go, how to seek help, or who to speak to about difficulties they face is a big issue for them;
- Social interaction can be more difficult as parents. They often cannot socialise in the same ways as other students and find it difficult to make links with other parents – this also affects retention;
- Childcare is also a big concern for parents both getting access and its expense;
- Accommodation is a growing concern for student parents if they are moving away to study. Most University residences do not have any child friendly or suitable accommodation and finding suitable accommodation in the private sector is also arduous.
What are some of the examples of projects or campaigns you've worked on?
- Sudent parent coffee mornings - we run on these on a Saturday morning and provide lunch and refreshments for the parents and children. One of our volunteering projects came in to play with the kids, which allowed the students some time to mingle, meet other student parents and relax. We also used these mornings as an opportunity to hold a focus group, gaining feedback on services, problems and suggestions. The focus groups have evolved into a working group to try and tackle some of the issues in the University.
- Data collection - I have worked closely with the University’s Equality and Diversity Advisor and between us we have managed to get the University to start collecting data at graduations, we have developed a new maternity and paternity policy for the University highlighting the responsibilities and rights of both the University and students in these circumstances.
- Website - we have created a brand new web page on the University website which is to act as a one stop shop for student parents giving them all the information they need and directing them to useful sources and people for things like childcare and accommodation. The Guild website is also getting updated with information and support for students with children and other dependants.
- Getting parents within the strategic plan - the work on student parents has now been put into the University's action plan for Equality and Diversity for the next year and will be forming part of a longer three year plan after that. We have also held meetings with the Director of Student Accommodation who has agreed to explore the idea of family friendly accommodation within the upcoming plans for redevelopment of one of our halls of residence.
- Finally we are also in the process of setting up a student parent association within the Guild, they work in similar ways to our liberation associations or post grad and international associations where we have a student led committee who organise events, socials, activities for the group and can receive funding and support from the Guild.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of getting the University to agree to start collecting data on students with dependants at registration. Liaising with the University Equality and Diversity Advisor and taking a different approach with this issue really helped. I am also very proud of the coffee mornings; we actually had quite a lot of people attend and we had some really positive feedback without these events I don’t think we would have progressed as far.
What challenges have you faced?
Getting the University to collect data was tricky, we had to be very clear with our rationale, drawing on research and statistics relating to retention to prove our case for the question being needed during registration. As a by-product of this, it is very difficult to publicise events aimed at student parents because we don't have data on them so can't be sure that we are reaching the right people.
The plan over the next year is to really help the new association find its feet, this will help with the social events and making student parents feel more included. We will also be carrying on with the focus groups which should get bigger off the back of the new association, from here we will continue to address issues with relevant departments as they arise. As a member of the University Equality and Diversity Committee I will also be involved in the monitoring of the new action plan ensuring that student parents remain on the agenda.