Let's get visible: evidence-based interventions aimed at supporting, empowering and celebrating student-parents in higher education.


  • Andrea Todd University of Chester




mature students, student mothers, widening participation, student-parents, access and participation


This paper analyses the findings of a two-stage small-scale research project investigating the needs of undergraduate students with dependent children (‘student-parents’) studying in a post-1992 university. The findings of Stage 1 of the study, using data from semi-structured interviews with student-parents, show that student-parents need two things from their institution: a sense of belonging and flexibility. In Stage 2, a questionnaire survey was used to explore the impact of two interventions piloted during the 2021-22 academic year to address the Stage 1 findings. The paper then presents the next steps in this project: co-creation, with students, of systems designed not only to make visible our student-parent community but also to support, empower and celebrate their identities as student-parents.

Author Biography

Andrea Todd, University of Chester

Andrea (Andy) Todd is a Senior Fellow of the HEA and Associate Professor of Active Citizenship at the University of Chester Law School. Since writing this article, Andy has produced an eight-step toolkit to assist institutions in identifying, supporting and celebrating student-parents. The toolkit is available on the website of the United Kingdom Advising and Tutoring Association: https://www.ukat.ac.uk/media/1886/supporting-student-parents-toolkit-andy-todd-jan-2023.pdf.    


Alsop, A., Gonzalez-Arnal, S. and Kilkey, M. (2008). ‘The widening participation agenda: the marginal place of care’, Gender and Education, 20(6), pp.623–637. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09540250802215235 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Arnold, L. and Norton, L. (2018) Action research: practice guide. Available at: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/action-research-practice-guide (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Arowoshola, L. (2020). ‘Medical education engagement during the COVID-19 era - a student parents perspective’. Medical education online, 25(1), 1788799. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/10872981.2020.1788799 (Accessed: 23 January 2023)

Bogossian, T. (2021) ‘“I can’t get the practical hours”: care, course choice and role conflict among student-mothers in higher education in Scotland’, Revista de Sociología de la Educación-RASE, 14 (2), pp.157-170. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7203/RASE.14.2.16896 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) ‘Using thematic analysis in psychology’, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), pp.77-101. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Briegel, M., Jakubec, S., Shippey-Heilman, A., Bruce, P. (2021) ‘Supporting the well-being of student who are parents’, Academia Letters, Article 3300. Available at: https://doi.org/10.20935/AL3300 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Brooks, R. (2015) ‘Social and spatial disparities in emotional responses to education: feelings of ‘guilt’ among student-parents.’ British Educational Research Journal, 41 (3), pp.505–519. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3154 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Burke, P.J. (2006) ‘Men accessing education: gendered aspirations’, British Educational Research Journal, 32(5), pp.719–733. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920600895759 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Dickson, M. and Tennant, L. (2018) ‘“The accommodation I make is turning a blind eye”: faculty support for student mothers in higher education’, Studies in Continuing Education 40 (1): pp.76–97. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2017.1392296 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Gouthro, P.A. (2006) ‘A critical feminist analysis of the homeplace as learning site: expanding the discourse of lifelong learning to consider adult women learners’, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 24(1), pp.5-19. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/026037042000317310 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Hinton-Smith, T. (2012) Lone parents’ experiences as higher education students. NIACE.

Leathwood, C. and O’Connell, P. (2003) ‘“It’s a struggle”: the construction of the “new student” in higher education’, Journal of Education Policy 18(6): 597–615.

Lin, H.C., Zeanah, P.L., Olivier, D.F., Bergeron, M.M., Lui, C.H. (2021) ‘Responding to the pressing yet unrecognized needs of student-parents amid the COVID-19 pandemic’, Journal of American College Health, 70(8), pp.2276-2280. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2020.1870474 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Lyonette, C., Atfield, G., Behl, H., Gambin, L. (2015) ‘Tracking student mothers’ higher education participation and early career outcomes over time: initial choices and aspirations, HE experiences and career destinations. Final report’. Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, Coventry. Available from: https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Tracking-student-mothers%E2%80%99-higher-education-participation-and-early-career-outcomes-over-time-Initial-choices-and-aspirations-HE-experiences-and-career-destinations.pdf [accessed 23 January 2023]

Mallman, M. and Lee, H. (2016) ‘Stigmatised learners: mature age students negotiating university culture’, British Journal of Sociology, 37(5), pp.684–701. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2014.973017 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Marandet, E. and Wainwright, E. (2009) ‘Discourses of integration and exclusion: equal opportunities for university students with dependent children?’ Space and Polity, 13(2), pp.109–126. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562570902999775 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Marandet, E. and Wainwright, E. (2010). ‘Invisible experiences: understanding the choices and needs of university students with dependent children’, British Educational Research Journal, 36(5), pp.787-805. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920903165595 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

McGivney, V. (2003) Staying or leaving the course. Leicester: NIACE.

Miles, M.B. and Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Moreau, M.P. (2014) ‘Towards the family-friendly university? Research evidence on student parents and implications for higher education policies’, Stimulus Paper Series, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Available at: https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets.creode.advancehe-document-manager/documents/lfhe/asset_images_docs/research_resources/research/stimulus_papers/2014/moreau_family_friendly_university.pdf_1572865902.pdf (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Moreau, M.P. and Kerner, C. (2012) Supporting student parents in higher education: a policy perspective. Available at: https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/Moreau%20Student%20Parent%20report%20-%20Full%20report%20October%202012.pdf (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Moreau, M.P. and Kerner, C. (2015) ‘Care in academia: an exploration of student parents’ experiences’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(2), pp.215-233, Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2013.814533 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Moss, D. (2004) ‘Creating space for learning: conceptualizing women and higher education through space and time’, Gender and Education, 16(3), pp.283–302. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09540250042000251452 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Nikiforidou, Z. and Holmes, S. (2022) ‘Student parents or parent students in lockdown pandemic? A Third Space approach’, Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 0(0) 1–16 https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X211067524 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

NUS (2009) Meet the parents: the experience of students with children in further and higher education. Available at: https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/meet-the-parents-the-experience-of-students-with-children-in-further-and-higher-education-2009 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

O’Shea, S. (2015) ‘“I generally say I am a mum first...but I’m studying at uni”: the narratives of first-in-family, female caregivers transitioning into an Australian university’, Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 8(4), 243–257. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038996 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Parr, J. (2017) Identity and education: the links for mature women students. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.

Reay, D., Ball, S. and David, M. (2002) ‘It’s taking me a long time but I’ll get there in the end: mature students on access courses and higher education choice’, British Educational Research Journal, 28(1), pp.5–19. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920120109711 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Reay, D., Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2010). ‘“Fitting in” or “standing out”: working-class students in UK higher education’, British Educational Research Journal, 36(1), pp.107–124. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920902878925 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Sallee, M.W. (2015) ‘Adding academics to the work/family puzzle: graduate student parents in higher education and student affairs’, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 52(4), pp. 401-413. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2015.1083438 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Saunders, K., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2012) Research methods for business students. Essex: Pearson.

Savage, S. (2021) ‘The experience of mothers as university students and pre-service teachers during Covid-19: recommendations for ongoing support’, Studies in Continuing Education. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2021.1994938 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Scharp, K.M., Cooper, R.A., Worwood, J.V. and Dorrance Hall, E. (2020) “There’s always going to be uncertainty”: exploring undergraduate student parents’ sources of uncertainty and related management practices. Communication Research, 48(7), pp.1059–1084. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650220903872 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Scott, C., Burns, A. and Cooney, G. (1996) ‘Reasons for discontinuing study: the case of mature age female students with children’, Higher Education, 31(2), pp.233-253. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02390446 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Stokes, P. and Wall, T. (2014) Research Methods. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Stone, C. and O’Shea, S. (2013) ‘Time, money, leisure and guilt: the gendered challenges of higher education for mature-age students’, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 53(1), pp.95–116. Available at: https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1193&context=sspapers (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Stone, C.M.M. and O’Shea, S.E. (2019) ‘My children… think it’s cool that mum is a uni student: women with caring responsibilities studying online’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), pp.97–110. Available at: https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.5504 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Thomas, L., Talbot, C.V. and Briggs, P. (2021) ‘The digital lives of student mothers: a consideration of technologies that support or erode the student/parent boundary’, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 154, Article 102689. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2021.102689 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Wainwright, E. and Marandet, E. (2010) ‘Parents in higher education: impacts of university learning on the self and the family’, Educational Review, 62(4), pp.449-465. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2010.487643 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Waller, R. (2006) ‘“I don’t feel like ‘a student’, I feel like ‘me’!”: the over‐simplification of mature learners’ experience(s)’, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 11(1), pp.115–130. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13596740500508019 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).

Webber, L. and Dismore, H. (2020) ‘Mothers and higher education: balancing time, study and space’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(6), pp.803–817. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2020.1820458 (Accessed: 20 January 2023).




How to Cite

Todd, A. (2023) “Let’s get visible: evidence-based interventions aimed at supporting, empowering and celebrating student-parents in higher education”., Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (26). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi26.920.

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.