“The decision to study would not have been taken lightly” Student Carer

New Carers Trust Scotland research shows the key challenges for Scotland’s student carer population.

Student carers are students studying at college or university, while caring, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support. The Student Carer Experience

Key findings from student carer respondents:

  • 47% find it difficult to attend class.
  • 75% struggle with finances and budgeting.
  • 35% find handing in coursework on time challenging.
  • 61% struggle to concentrate in class.

It is estimated that there are over 30,000 students in Scotland, studying alongside providing unpaid care for a family member or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems.

Student carers, carer services and college and university staff from across Scotland’s colleges and universities were invited to participate in the research through interviews and surveys. Their perspectives have shaped the research, which illuminates the challenges for student carers and the support that can improve their experiences.

From application stages, through to the experience of studying, student carers face unique challenges. Unpaid carers give their caring role a great amount of thought when applying to college or university. For many students, studying is an opportunity to move away from home and into student accommodation. Student carers, however, may be unable to move away from their caring responsibilities. For those that stay at home, it is important that they can travel from college or university to the person they care for as quickly as possible, and so the location of course is given consideration.

Studying itself can present challenges for unpaid carers, with their time under pressure from caring responsibilities, their studies and in many cases, part time work. Attending class, concentrating on work both at home and on campus, and meeting coursework deadlines are difficulties faced by many.

A lack of time and competing responsibilities can take its toll, with 84% of student carers surveyed finding it challenging to keep good mental health while studying. Finding time to socialise is also difficult for student carers, which can leave many feeling isolated from their peers, and the wider college or university community.

College and university staff, are aware that studying is challenging for unpaid carers and want to provide comprehensive support. However, it can be difficult to reach unpaid carers within student populations, meaning that it is only at crisis point when recourse for action is more limited, that student carers become known. Supporting student carers can be challenging for college and university staff who are managing large caseloads and working with many students requiring support.

Considering the challenges student carers face, and the barriers that college and university staff face in supporting them, the Student Carer Experience in Scotland makes recommendations and suggestions that could improve the studying experience for student carers. Visible, proactive and flexible support, with individually tailored and practical solutions can help student carers on their college and university journey. Despite challenges, with the right support in place student carers can, and do succeed in their studies.

Summary of Recommendations

  • Disclosure opportunities – knowing who carers are within the student body and identifying them for support
  • Support – visible, proactive and flexible
  • Personal student carer support plan and named contact with one-to-one contact
  • Training for all staff
  • Financial support for student carers – Carer’s Allowance, Bursaries, Accommodation Costs, Review of SAAS and other benefits
  • Prioritising carers in Scottish Government policy
  • Strong links and working relationships – schools, carer centres and services, colleges and universities require strengthened

Hannah Martin, Research and Engagement worker for Carers Trust Scotland said:

“Studying can be a real challenge for student carers. There are many barriers, unique to their circumstances, that they can face from application right through to completing their course. The good news, is that there are measures that can support student carers, that college and university staff can take on.”

Since October 2019, Carers Trust Scotland has been undertaking research into the experiences of student carers across Scotland’s colleges and universities. This study was made possible due to generous funding by Mr and Mrs JMB Charitable Trust.

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