Research on students and academics with caring responsibilities is scarce, with work in this area usually focusing on the mothering of healthy, ‘abled’ children. Moreau, who has been researching this group since 2010, argues that the flexibility of academia can greatly facilitate the combination of care and academic work. However, this flexibility can also render the needs of caregivers invisible. Some of those who talked to Moreau had experienced prejudice and, as a result, resorted when possible to private, individualised solutions.
The issues faced by carers are vast and varied. Many carers, students or staff, struggle to balance their caring responsibilities with their employment or studies. Student carers often struggle financially.
Most of those interviewed by Moreau and her colleagues were ‘time poor’, with very little time for activities other than academic and care work. Many experienced poor physical and mental health. Some talked of the impact of their dual status on retention and career progression.
However, these struggles are not felt by everyone equally and Moreau’s research identified differences dependent on gender, class and ethnicity, as well as on the nature of individuals’ caring responsibilities. Those with caring responsibilities other than caring for healthy, ‘abled’ children tend to be the ones more likely to experience a sense of struggle and yet, are also the ones to receive less formal support. Tensions also depend on the nature of individuals’ position, with leadership and management roles viewed as particularly incompatible with caring responsibilities.To tackle the issues faced, Moreau is calling for a cultural change so that universities can better accommodate the needs of students and staff with caring responsibilities. To achieve this, the School of Education and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University is launching two policy briefings which provide a set of guidelines and recommendations for universities and national bodies on how to make Higher Education more inclusive for this group: Creating Inclusive Spaces for Students in Higher Education with Caregiving Responsibilities and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Academic Staff with Caregiving Responsibilities.
Both briefings include sets of recommendations around collecting more, and better, data about this group to inform policy and practice; providing accessible information to staff and students so they can access support and participate in networks; and developing flexible policies to ensure the needs of caregivers are met in university settings.
The briefings build on a short film funded by Advance HE on a similar topic, launched in 2018:
Moreau hopes that, together with the film, the briefing papers will contribute to raising awareness of carers and to change practices and policies in higher education and other sectors, ultimately improving the lives of students and staff with caring responsibilities.