Today I took my child to day care and then my last piece of coursework to the professor’s pigeonhole. All that remains of my time as a student with children is the formalities of my faculty. That is why this is a good time to look back and consider what everyday life is actually like for a student with children. What makes it difficult, and how could it be made easier? What kind of policies would make it easier to combine studies and family life? Because it is always good to start with the negatives, I have put together a short list of troubles.
Trouble #1: The stereotypical view of students and studies
It is surprisingly difficult to find information on the precise number of students with children. According to estimates, one in six students is also a parent. Despite this, it is only too often that you come across generalisations on what a university student is like. May Day celebrations that last all week, drinking songs and overalls are all without a doubt part of the student culture, but these should not make up the basis for political guidelines that apply to all students. That means that the time spent studying might not actually become any shorter even though the criteria for student financial aid are tightened and these benefits are made more loan-based.
When making political decisions, it should be understood that university students are a very heterogenous group, which includes both working singles and those who study during their parental leave. No one benefits from rough generalisations.
Trouble #2: Inflexible studies
Based on some slightly unscientific empirical research (i.e. asking on social media) I would claim that what bothers students with children the most is the inflexibility of their studies. The fact that you have to sign up for faculty exams one week in advance and there is exactly one possible exam date per month. Or when a child is caught in a cycle of the flu, fifth disease and stomach bugs which prevents the parent from attending compulsory lectures, and the only possibly time to re-take the course is the following year.
Luckily exam aquariums and other technological advances have brought some relief to the situation. Personally, I can also be grateful to my own faculty for its flexibility and its generous professors. Still the tight timetables, especially at universities of applied sciences, and compulsory attendance make it more difficult for students with children to proceed in their studies – which also jeopardises their already low income. This leads me to the third trouble.
Trouble #3: Economic insecurity
Currently 60 % or student families live below the poverty line. Despite this there will be new cuts to student financial aid coming into force in August, which will also reduce the income of many student families. More and more people must choose between getting an education and starting a family. Having both is made incomprehensibly difficult. Now that I can almost feel my diploma in my hand I am tremendously happy for the fact that we had our child for emotional reasons. It certainly was not sensible from an economic point of view.
The financial situation of student families needs to be improved urgently. 20,000 students with children are receiving student financial aid, and they will benefit from the provider supplement. A comprehensive reform of parental leaves must also be carried out. In the long term, we also need to freshen up the social security system in a more extensive way, so that everybody’s necessary subsistence can be guaranteed through a basic income or security.
Member of SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board KENKKU, Helsinki