Exploring policy understandings of the experiences, challenges and strengths of student parents in Australian higher education

Year: 2021

Author: Beattie, Hannah, Knight, Elizabeth

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Student parents face significant educational disadvantages, due to their caring responsibilities, financial constraints, and competing demands on their time. However this group has been under-analysed, partly because the existing national student equity framework does not identify this group (Harvey, Burnheim, & Brett, 2016). This project was designed to establish a national evidential base for analysing student parents in Australian higher education. We explored the motivations, strengths, and challenges of student parents, and examined targeted policies and strategies to encourage their success. Drawing on a review of relevant literature, a desktop analysis of university supports, and a national survey of over 500 student parents, this paper explores the challenges student parents face in fulfilling their competing responsibilities. We argue that despite the challenges, student parents draw on a range of personal strengths to help them succeed. Our paper also examines the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student parents. We argue the need for universities, governments and service providers to provide improved financial, academic and personal support for parents who are studying at university.We suggest that policies such as the national student equity framework aim to be emancipatory but by necessity are constrained by current practices and construct the idealised student in specific stereotypical ways (Bowl, 2003). We draw on Morley’s work to understand how the academy ‘defines and regulates what a student is’ (Morley, 1997, p. 5). Through taking this approach, we identify a policy silence (Bacchi, 2009) identified in student equity policy discourse in relation to those students who have caring responsibilities and suggest that this silence is intensified for student parents (Moreau, 2012).The invisibility of this group is performed by lack of reporting on the cohort (Moreau & Kerner, 2015). As higher education in Australia increasingly becomes a high participation system (Marginson, 2016), the importance of adopting inclusive understandings of the whole cohort, not just a stereotype, also increases.References:Andrewartha, L. & Harvey, A. (2021). Supporting carers to succeed in Australian higher education. NCSEHE.  Bacchi, C. (2009). Analysing policy? Pearson.Bowl, M. (2003). Non-Traditional Entrants to Higher Education. Stylus.Harvey, A., Burnheim, C. & Brett, M. (Eds.) (2016). Student Equity in Australian Higher Education. Springer.Marginson, S. (2016). High Participation Systems of Higher Education. JHE, 87:2.Moreau, M.P. & Kerner, C. (2015). Care in academia. BJSE, 36:2.Morley, L. (1997). Change and equity in higher education. BJSE, 18:2.