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New research published by the National Union of Students (NUS) 'Learning with care' reveals the experiences of students who are providing unpaid care whilst studying.
This first ever national research into the experiences of student carers further analyses the startling statistics exposed by NUS' 'Pound in Your Pocket' (an 18 month long research programme into student financial support).
The report presents these with the qualitative data it gathered, to expose the lack of support for student carers and the detrimental effect this has on their ability to access education, their educational experience, finances and lifestyle.
Key findings include:
NUS Women's Officer, Kelley Temple, said she wanted to undertake the research because of the gendered implications of caring. Speaking about the report she said:
"Student carers - the majority of whom are women - are an invisible group in many universities and colleges. Despite the valuable service they provide to society, their support needs are often misunderstood or ignored by their education providers.
"Universities and colleges, as well as the Government, should take prompt action to rectify this and ensure that student carers are able to get the education they deserve. No woman should be denied access to education as a result of providing unpaid care."
Dr Moira Fraser, Director of Policy and Research, Carers Trust said:
"This is an important piece of research and we support its findings. We know that student carers are underrepresented in further and higher education, and that carers who might be considering continuing with their education face considerable barriers. Providing them with the support they need to pursue their studies is vital."
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
"People taking on caring responsibilities between the ages of 18 and 24 are amongst the fastest growing group of carers. A lack of support for young people who care does serious and long-term damage to their education, career prospects, social inclusion and their mental and physical health.
"Social services, the NHS, schools, colleges, universities and community groups have a crucial role to play identifying young carers early, and ensuring their families get the financial and practical support they need."
The report makes seven recommendations, calling on the Government, the further education and higher education sectors, institutions and students' unions to improve the experiences and lives of student carers.
Student carers are under-represented in further and higher education. The difference is particularly stark for women aged 16?"24; 10 per cent of women carers in that age range who care for more than 50 hours per week are in education, compared to 17 per cent of men carers.
The support of educational institutions is key to helping student carers access and transition successfully to higher levels of learning.
Student carers' choice to study, as well as what and where to study, were often intrinsically linked to their caring responsibilities.
Deciding where, when, and how to disclose caring responsibilities to their institution was a key struggle for student carers and there was widespread support for a system by which they could disclose this upon enrolment.
Only 36 per cent of student carers felt able to balance commitments such as work, study, and family/relationships, compared to 53 per cent of students without caring responsibilities.
Just under half of interviewees felt that their academic performance or attainment had been negatively affected by their caring responsibilities, and only one felt that it had been positively affected.
More than half of student carers (56 per cent) had seriously considered leaving their course, compared to 39 per cent of students without caring responsibilities.
Student carers had experienced varying degrees of support from their institutions, but in all cases there was a lack of coordinated, systematic support.
Two thirds of student carers (67 per cent) regularly worry about not having enough money to meet their basic living expenses.
Three in five (60 per cent) of student carers are combining paid work, caring, and studying.
However, many student carers would like to work more, but are prevented by their caring responsibilities.
Student carers who were in receipt of Carer's Allowance did not feel the benefit was adequate, but the fact that full-time students are not eligible for Carer's Allowance was considered unfair and contributing to their financial hardship.
Student carers were three times as likely to have taken on high-risk debt as students without caring responsibilities, even though they were less likely to have taken out low-risk debt.
Many student carers have had to sacrifice all or some of their social life in order to study and provide care.
Young student carers were more likely to support the idea of a (physical or virtual) student carers' group, while mature student carers were more likely to say that they would not have time to participate in such a group.
Student carers indicated lower well-being than students without caring responsibilities across all seven indicators in the survey.
15 per cent of student carers indicated that they had mental health difficulties, and our qualitative research shows that in some cases this can have a serious effect on their studies.
The impact on their well-being was the most common area for student carers to identify as the worst part of being a student carer.
Being a student carer has benefits as well as drawbacks. Having an identity outside of caring, gaining life skills and independence, and having a sense of accomplishment were identified as the best parts of being a student carer.
Student carers - students who provide unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this help - are a hidden group of students who face unique barriers and challenges in accessing and succeeding in education.
The report integrates the quantitative research findings of an 18 month long research programme into student financial support called Pound in Your Pocket (PIYP) by further exploring the depth of duty undertaken by student carers.
The findings comprise the first ever national research into the experiences of student carers in further and higher education.
The research consisted of three elements:
National Union of Students (NUS)
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release. Source:
National Union of Students (NUS)
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National Union of Students. "NUS publishes first ever national research into the experiences of student carers, UK." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 19 Sep. 2013. Web.
12 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/266317>
National Union of Students. (2013, September 19). "NUS publishes first ever national research into the experiences of student carers, UK." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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