4 Further and Higher Education
4.1 The National Union of Students (NUS) published the first UK-wide review of the experiences of full- and part-time student parents in further and higher education in 200913. This report draws primarily on questionnaire data from 2,167 students, interviews with key stakeholders and a series of student focus groups. Meet the Parents: The experience of students with children in further and higher education focuses on the experiences of student parents but also addresses issues of pregnancy and maternity. 29% of participants reported that they became pregnant whilst studying (p.74). The majority of mothers (59%) who were pregnant whilst studying did not feel that their institution adequately supported them (p.20) and 'pregnant students face particular challenges in the educational system, particularly in relation to finances and taking time out' (p.11). The key message presented points to a wide variation in practices adopted within colleges and universities, from highly 'positive practices' to 'less supportive' practices. Examples of less supportive practices cited include (see p.29):
- Recruitment practices - one college repeatedly refused entry to pregnant students.
- Failure to support progression - one student failed an exam because her waters broke; another was refused a comfortable seat during her exam; 'others were forced off courses, or left with no support or information as to how they could be supported to continue their course, instead battling against an expectation that they should drop out or defer'.
4.2 The report recommends that UK further and higher educational institutions must develop 'pregnancy policies' to minimize such negative impacts (p.33), not least because there were 'instances of outright discrimination' (p.16). The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) has warned that higher education institutions might be failing to meet their legal duty to ensure that pregnant students and new mothers are not discriminated against, as highlighted in the Times Higher Education14.
4.3 The ECU (2010) has published guidance for higher education institutions on student pregnancy and maternity, extending to issues of paternity and paternity rights15. The ECU draws heavily on the NUS report as a key source of information and reiterates the general absence of pregnancy and maternity policies across the sector. This publication includes detailed practical guidance on all aspects of the student journey and underlines the increased statutory protection provided under Section 17 of the Equality Act 2010. There is a useful pregnancy and maternity support proforma provided at the end of the report. A series of further ECU reports focus specifically on Scotland and provide guidance for Scottish higher and further education institutions on how to address the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duties more generally - and deal with the specific duties laid down by the Scottish Parliament16. The EHRC (2012) has also published general guidance, incorporating pregnancy and maternity, for students across all four home nations17. A trawl of the websites of Colleges Scotland, College Development Network, Universities Scotland and individual colleges and universities reveals that the college and university sectors are developing mechanisms and policies/strategies to meet these requirements now and in the future. Such developments are also important for students making the decision to become parents. Khadjooi et al (2012) note that 90% of medical students in their study were not aware that support for pregnant students was available. This factor is reported to have influenced some respondents' decisions to delay having children18.
4.4 The extent to which these policies translate into practice, however, requires further examination. Some recently published policies seem to be falling short of the mark in terms of aspiration, as the following excerpt of a student maternity policy from a Scottish university (2012) highlights:
Nursing mothers should be aware that there are no specific facilities for expressing milk on campus and that alternative arrangements should be made.
4.5 The NUS study highlights that further and higher education institutions are not required to collect data on student pregnancy (p.12). The ECU (2010) also notes the absence of pregnancy and maternity data in relation to higher education, suggesting that the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) should collect this data to enable institutions to 'determine the scale of the facilities and services they need to provide to support students during pregnancy and maternity, and to support existing student parents' (p.24). They suggest that this should not deter institutions from collecting their own data. These data would also provide opportunities to examine some of the intersections between other protected characteristics, in addition to non-protected characteristics such as deprivation. In Scotland, for example, data on gender, age, deprivation, disability, ethnicity and geographic region are already collected by colleges and universities. These data help, amongst other things, to measure success towards achieving Learning for All19, which is the Scottish Funding Council's aim of widening access to further and higher education.
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