“What, if any, issues do parents, particularly single parents, face when going back to study/work. Is it mainly childcare, or are there other issues that they face as well”
For the purpose of this project I only intend to survey students that have studied at UOW or are currently enrolled. I also intend to, possibly, branch out a little and survey current staff members to see what support, if any, they are offered in regards to work/life balance. However, I believe this project has the potential to branch out to see what numbers of mature students are attending universities around Australia who have one or more children in their care full time.
As a single parent entering back into study again in order to further my education to improve my ability to obtain work I know first hand the issues faced when attempted to gain a study/family balance. It is a struggle that has caused many a headache for me, and I am sure that I am not alone. According to University Australia’s website in 2015 “Universities had more than one million enrolled students and they employ over 100,000 staff.”(QILT 2015) According to the QILT statistics, in 2015 66.1% of those students were female. Unfortunately, it seems, very little research is done into how many of these students were mature aged, and how many of these students were parents (partnered or single).
The earliest statistics in regards to mature aged students I managed to stumble across was done back in 2011 on the Australian Bureau of statistics website, and it didn’t even specify how many were actually mature students, or how many were parents. It stated, “By 2011, 57% of higher education students aged 15-64 years were women” (ABS, 2011) and the rest was really hard to comprehend. The missing statistics could give a better understand of what supports are needed, and what supports need improving in order to help this life change for parents who are going back to study. This information, I believe, is incredibly vital when you consider the current changes in the social climate where many single parents on some form of welfare are being told they must enter back into the workforce or study in order to continue to claim some form of financial support. Not to mention the number of families that needs two parents working in order to simply survive day to day.
When you factor into this how there is a significant difference in super amounts of women when they reach retirement, with women receiving 57% less in super compared to their male counterparts (The guardian, 2016). You can see how many women have sacrificed their own financial stability in their old age in order to support and raise their children (my assumption is that the same sacrifices that are made by a male partner would have the same consequences. Though it was difficult to find this information, sadly). A little more support when it comes to increasing their ability to obtain some form of flexible employment through study is something that shouldn’t just be encouraged, it should be supported so that they can, and do, succeed with this goal. However, without proper childcare arrangements that cater to the needs of a student this can feel like something of a pipe dream.
At this stage there are two childcares available on campus, north and south, for students to send their children. The childcare offers care for children 6 weeks to 5 years, and after school care for children up to the age of 12 (after school care for the older children). The operating hours are 7:30-6PM (the norm for most long day cares). Upon calling the childcare I was informed that, unfortunately, the waiting list for children to attend the centre was 2 years long even with preference given to staff and students. Another issue that has also not been addressed is the fact that many tutorials and lectures run well after the centre closes with some tutorials running till 8:30PM depending on the course that you are doing. This issue itself is something of great concern and is faced by any parent who has been fortunate enough to obtain some childcare for their children. Centres will (and do) charge in increments of 1-5 minutes if a parent is late to collect their child, this can mean a parent might either have to leave a late tutorial early, or face added costs to their childcare fees. While there are family day cares that offer 24/7 child care, they give priority to parents who are working shift work (fair enough) and are few and far between with a limit of 5 children at each centre. This also doesn’t address the fact that there are also children with disabilities that might need specialised help.
Reasonable Adjustments are offered to students who are carers of a child/children with a disability. This allows the student to put forward a preference for certain tutorials that fit into their daily schedule. It also allows for a blanket Academic consideration for anything related to the health and care of that child. Unfortunately this only works if the tutorials on offer work in with the current childcare arrangements. An RA can also help for when children are sick and a parent is unable to find someone to watch the children so that they can go to uni on that day. From personal experience, however, this can be incredibly frustrating if multiple tutorials that are available fall on a day that I have not managed to get childcare, or at times where the childcare closes. The only support I was offered was to a: defer, b: change subjects (which I did multiple times with the same issues faced) or c: drop subjects and do less. This is incredibly frustrating for someone on a time limit as financial support received changes once your youngest child turns 8. The longer studies are stretched out, the longer I am unable to work, the less time I have to gain financial stability before finances change. This is the same issue many parents are faced with, with many having less time to make these changes to their lives in order to obtain a better job opportunity for them self.
Now I do understand that there are online courses available for parents. However this isn’t an option some people wish to take for many reasons. Richard Branson once stated in 2014 “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple“ (Virgin.com, 2014). The same can be said for students. Happy students who feel supported are less stressed out. Students that are not as stressed perform better. Simple really. Reducing the stresses faced by many parents who are attempting to study at university in order to improve their chances of employment require understanding and support especially when it comes to help with balancing family and study life. Caring for the needs of these students (and staff members for that matter), like anyone else, makes for happier students who will recommend a uni to friends and family and a better performance overall for the university when it comes to where they stand academically on a global scale.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Social Trends, 2013, cat. no. 4102.0, viewed 26th March 2016, <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20July+2013 >.
Australian Universities 2015, Key Facts & Data, Viewed 26th March 2016, https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/australias-universities/key-facts-and-data.
Branson R 2014, Virgin, Look after your staff, viewed 26th March 2016 <https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/look-after-your-staff>.
Jericho G 2016, Superannuation, women, and flexible work: it’s a sad state of affairs, The Guardian, viewed 26th March 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/07/superannuation-women-and-flexible-work-its-a-sad-state-of-affairs.
Kids Uni, University of Wollongong, viewed 26th March 2016, http://unicentre.uow.edu.au/kidsuni/index.html.
QILT 2015 ,2015 Student Experience Survey National Report, SES student experience survey, viewed 26th March 2016, https://www.qilt.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/2015-student-experience-survey-national-report.pdf?sfvrsn=0.