Carers and Careers in Higher Education is the outcome of a collaborative project between Marie-Pierre Moreau, a Professor in Education based at Anglia Ruskin University, and Tim Bernard, an independent film director. As the film is being released, Moreau reflects on the challenges faced by carers in academia.
Photo by Alexandra Richardson
Being an academic has been historically associated with being ‘care-free’, in the sense of having no or very little caring responsibilities. Yet, these days, students and academics are increasingly likely to be carers. They may be parents or they may be caring for a friend or a relative who has a chronic illness, a disability or who is elderly. It is also not uncommon for academics to have multiple caring responsibilities.
The impact of being a carer on academic careers
The presence of carers in academia raises two main social justice issues. The first one relates to the treatment of carers compared with non-carers. In cultural contexts where academic policies and practices are geared towards the care-free, carers are likely to experience a range of problems, including conflicts between paid and care work, low quality of life, poor physical and mental health, and financial issues. The research I conducted with my colleague Murray Robertson also highlights the impact of being a carer on academic careers, with access to leadership and management positions particularly challenging. While academics typically enjoy salaries which are above the UK median, the casualisation of academic contracts, combined with the high costs of care provision, can bring about some financial difficulties. Likewise, while the flexibility associated with academic positions can, in some circumstances, facilitate retention and work-life balance, its dual-sided effects cannot be ignored. As highlighted in our research, flexible working can exacerbate the fuzziness of the boundaries between paid and care work, with burn out and ill health the ultimate risk.
Women in particular are more likely to experience a sense of struggle
A second social justice issue relates to inequalities between carers. For example, our research has shown how women in particular are more likely to experience a sense of struggle as a result of their dual status. This is somewhat unsurprising in a cultural context where care work is predominantly constructed as ‘women’s work’. Likewise, in what I have described as a ‘hierarchy of care’, caring for a young, healthy and abled child is challenging, yet often associated with some form of support. Those with ‘other’ caring responsibilities often feel ignored and left to their own device.
An engaging account of academic carers’ experiences
We cannot ignore the issues faced by carers and how they are compounded by work cultures which, more often than not, construct the worker as care-free. Some institutions have taken action, others have been less proactive, which in turn raises additional equality issues, between those carers enjoying a supportive environment and those who do not. It is in this context that the idea of developing a short film on carers in academia has emerged. Working collaboratively with film director Tim Bernard, we have endeavoured to develop an engaging account of academic carers’ experiences and of practices and policies in this area (‘what works?’). Ultimately, through the film, we hope to raise awareness of carers, including in relation to the disproportionate effects of caring responsibilities on women’s careers, and to encourage the development of practices and approaches which have proved to make a difference to the lives of carers.
Marie-Pierre Moreau is Professor of Education, School of Education and Social Care, Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. A sociologist by training, she has extensively published on inequalities in education and the workplace, including three books:
- Les enseignants et le genre (Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2011)
- Inequalities in the teaching profession (edited collection, Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2014)
- Teachers, gender and the feminisation debate (Routledge, London, 2019)
Advance HE makes funding available for Small Development Projects of up to £4,000, and for smaller case studies up to £500. Find out more about the Small Development Projects and calls for proposals.