New research — A balancing act: Supporting students who are parents to succeed in Australian higher education
Students who are parents face many obstacles to success in higher education. Juggling caring responsibilities alongside study requirements places high demands on the time and energy of student parents, many of whom have additional employment commitments. Financial constraints create an additional barrier to success, with groups at particular risk of disadvantage including young parents, single parents, and parents from low socio-economic backgrounds. Despite the barriers faced by student parents, a specific focus on this group has been largely absent from the Australian student equity agenda.
This NCSEHE-funded project sought to address the gap and establish the first major evidential base of student parents in Australian higher education. The project explored the self-identified motivations, challenges, and strengths of these students. Findings are based on an examination of available datasets, a desktop review of related institutional policy and practice, and a national survey.
The research was conducted by La Trobe University, in collaboration with Victoria University and the Council of Single Mothers and their Children.
Findings show that student parents possess a range of valuable competencies and qualities that help them succeed in higher education. These attributes are also beneficial to the wider student population. Balancing the responsibilities of being a parent and a student, however, is challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic imposed added pressure on many student parents through disruptions to their own study arrangements, combined with remote learning and increased care requirements for their children. The research revealed a lack of targeted policy, legislative, and institutional support for student parents in Australia, which contrasts to places such as the United Kingdom. This report contributes new insights for the development of strategies to better support student parents to access and succeed in higher education.
This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.