In Conversation with Amy Stanning about New LUSU Parent and Carer Policies

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Reforms to Lancaster University’s parent and carer Student policies came about on the 2nd of March as a new policy proposed by the Student Union’s Postgraduate and Mature Students Officer, Amy Stanning, was unanimously passed by the LUSU Executive. 

In an interview with SCAN, Amy discussed some of the problems faced by parent and carer students, what the policy means and some of the changes that students can hope to see in the near future. 

Amy is the Student Union Postgraduate and Mature Students Officer. When she initially came into the role last July, the position was, ‘Mature Student’s Officer,’ however due to the fact that postgraduates fall into the ‘Mature Student’ age threshold, the change was made for the name to include postgraduates. 

“I’m there to represent all Postgrad students… but also students that are mature students, including undergraduate mature students,” Amy told us. 

She represents these students on the LUSU Executive, helping to improve their University experience. 

Amy is also the Chair of the ‘Postgraduate and Mature Students Forum,’ a community group that hosts events for PG and Mature students, (though she says they are open to anyone who may want to attend) including cooking classes, quiz nights and also policy discussions where students can raise queries about their University experience. 

The forum is currently working online and students can join by contacting Amy (details can be found at the bottom of this article) and visiting the Lancaster SU PG & Mature Students’ Officer facebook page. There is also a closed Facebook page for members and a Microsoft Teams group where meetings are currently occurring. 

The new policy that Amy managed to pass concerns parent and carer students. Although there is no way of identifying a definitive number of these types of students, Amy suggested that looking at the proportion of part-time students is a good indicator of the number of parents and carers. 

Currently 10% of all Lancaster University students and 37% of postgraduate students are part-time, “let’s assume that half of all part-time students are parents or carers,” Amy proposed. “That’s still a significant number of students, roughly 5% of overall students and 20% of postgraduate students.” 

Part of the current problem, which led to the proposal of the new policy, is the lack of representation and definitive support for this proportion of students. “I think that the pandemic has accentuated a lot of the struggles that parent and carer students face,” Amy told us. 

Looking after children in normal circumstances is bound to be difficult but Amy addressed the fact that many parents have to balance a degree workload, homeschooling and general caring duties over lockdown which is bound to have an impact on things like attending seminars, general work and meeting deadlines.

Amy also highlighted problems that these students face with regards to parking availability and the lack of policy and funding covering students who become parents during their university education. 

“In the absence of a policy it seems that departments do the best that they can, but to a degree make it up as they go along,” Amy told us. 

She underlined the importance of having an overarching policy for support, which the new policy will set in place, and the fact that the university’s current support, though seeing some success, is unregulated and unknown to many students. 

Currently, the University Student Success Team supports parent and carer students through mentoring and training groups, 1 to 1 support and also peer support, which Amy says is helpful for those who are able to access it. 

Additionally, the Athena Swan group has seen recent success with regards to opening facilities for parents with young children in Bowland North, however Amy stressed that there needs to be more facilities like this. 

“It’s not about bashing the University, it is very easy to be critical,” Amy told us. Clearly the University is willing to enact change and support the parent and carer student population, as Amy commented that “in my discussions with the University I have had total support and cooperation” and that “all the people on the EDI team, Student Success and Transitions all really want to help.” 

What the new policy hopes to enact gives parent and carer students a voice in executive meetings, a place to network, increasing funding for support programmes and having an overall policy that holds the University accountable for the treatment of parent and carer students on an equal basis. 

This will ensure that they have equal and available access to educational support, like extensions, breaks from work and mentoring and training groups with an overarching policy that ensures consistent treatment. 

Amy suggested that having the policy will be extremely beneficial to equal treatment: “If you know your rights then you can fight for them, but if your rights aren’t defined- which is the current situation for parent and carer students- then you have to make it up as you go along.” 

Changes are expected relatively soon. Though there is no definitive timetable, Amy Merchant has been working on a website which will have all the links for the current parent and carer support available, whilst coming Student Union talks with Sarah Sweeney- Head of Student Wellbeing- seek a formal commitment to the policy and a feature on the University page about the services available for parent and carer students. 

Amy’s other hopes for support development include the possibility of having ‘Individual Learning Support Plans’ for parent and carer students, the establishment of a sub-forum for them in the current PG and Mature students Forum and the securing of an adapted version of the ‘Ready for University’ introduction module for Postgraduate students- something that is not currently available to them. 

The proposal of new policy is therefore extremely beneficial in securing representation,

funding, increasing support and the awareness of its availability and having a policy that holds the University Accountable. However, Amy suggests that to achieve this, “developing a partnership with the University” will be integral to making change happen. 

Amy’s Email: su.maturestudentsofficer@lancaster.ac.uk The Mature Student’s SU Web Page: https://lancastersu.co.uk/maturestudents The Public Facebook Page: @LUSUMatureStudentsOfficer

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