Kids: can’t live with them, can’t live without them. You may have even seen them around campus, chasing the pigeons in the quad or being pushed in a buggy around the library. You may wonder what they are doing at a tertiary institution though, considering this is a place for grown ups. But the reality is that about 15% of students on campus have children (according to a TNS survey commissioned by NZUSA in 2004), and they need to somehow fit their study around their families. 79% of respondents with dependent children were women, and 21% were men.
Tertiary institutions are generally not very child friendly, and access to affordable and quality childcare is hard. There are student crèches around, but these often have limited places, and students are competing for those places with the staff that have kids too, not to mention juggling study with work (student parents are more likely to work part time during the term that those with no dependents) and other household responsibilities. Over 40% of those student parents will be the sole parent of their child/ren, and 60% will have pre-school aged children (2003 NZUSA Student Parent Survey).
You think that it’s tough around exam time? Imagine trying to study and look after your kids – student parents almost always put family first and their grades are the first thing to suffer when something happens at home. Child is sick? Can’t go to lectures or tutorials, regardless of whether they are compulsory or not. If you do go but take your child with you, where can you study on campus where other students will not get annoyed? In addition, around 86% of student parents are aged 26 or over, so they face educational barriers that mature students also face – perhaps being out of the education system for a while, having the younger students look down on them as annoying, not having the same social networks as younger students… the list goes on.
Student parents face high fees and are accruing debt just as other students do. But student parents have increased living costs compared to other students because of their dependents – for example 62% of respondents in the 2004 TNS survey paid more than $150 a week in accommodation and $100 a week in food expenses. Often student parents base their course of study around lecture timetables or childcare availability (rather than personal interest), the cost of the course, and the length of the course (i.e. a three year degree vs. a one year diploma). Couple this with limited access to allowances, the pitiful amount of the Training Incentive Allowance, and other inequalities in access to education (especially for females), and you have one group on campus who will be stressed out, poor and sleep deprived. So the next time you see a student with a child in tow, consider the efforts they have gone through to simply be there – and give them a smile of encouragement.
NZUSA IS RUNNING THE STUDENT PARENTS SURVEY AGAIN! PICK UP A 2006 SURVEY FORM FROM YOUR LOCAL STUDENT’S ASSOCIATION, OR FROM THE NZUSA WEBSITE – www.students.org.nz