New project to support student carers

Staffordshire University is leading a project to better support students with caring responsibilities alongside their studies

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Staffordshire University is piloting a new student-carer peer support program (credit U3190523 via Wikimedia Commons)

We haven’t found many practical interventions to help student carers. Many universities have rigid rules and policies which do not suit their flexible needs. Because of this, student carers often rely on, and prefer, informal support from peers.

Dr Jessica Runacres, Senior Lecturer in Research Practice

1 in 8 adults provide unpaid care for family and friends, according to Carers UK. Yet there is limited data about the numbers of carers attending university and their experiences of higher education.

A recent Staffordshire University study shows that without the necessary support, caring responsibilities can have a negative impact on student carers’ physical and mental health, university performance, decisions and social life. It can also impact their financial status and employment opportunities.

In response, researchers from the School of Health, Science and Wellbeing are currently working with colleagues across Staffordshire University to pilot a new student-carer peer support program.

Dr Jessica Runacres, Senior Lecturer in Research Practice, explained: “We haven’t found many practical interventions to help student carers. Many universities have rigid rules and policies which do not suit their flexible needs. Because of this, student carers often rely on, and prefer, informal support from peers.

“The peer mentoring program will not only provide valuable support for students but an interesting opportunity for some qualitative and quantitative research. There is little research which examines the impact that studying has on an individual’s ability to provide care, and, as the government are pushing for more people to be cared for at home, the need to understand this is high.”

The researchers will conduct a UK wide study to gather quantitative data about student carers. This will involve collecting a variety of information including measures of resilience, wellbeing, FOMO (fear of missing out), gender, ethnicity, deprivation indices, caring hours, type of care provided, detail on the person cared for, level of HE study, course studied, and course attainment.

Dr Daniel Herron, Lecturer in Psychology, said: “Universities generally don’t capture demographic data about carer status so we don’t know how many student carers are in higher education and might need additional support. Our research also found that some carers feel unable to disclose their status for fear of being negatively judged by their institutions.

“Our aim is to gather more data to help us better understand their university experience and how being a carer affects their decision process. A large-scale quantitative study will fill a huge gap. Hopefully these findings can then be used to inform university policy across the sector and ultimately help carers to get the most out of their higher education journey.”

Student carer experiences of higher education and support: a scoping review is published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.

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