Student nurses who are also mothers are dropping out of their degrees due to the “very patchy” support given by universities to help them deal with the realities of the course and placements, according to new research.
Too little information early on about what professions, such as nursing, will entail means that placements become the “crunch point” for many of these students, said the study.
The research, by the University of Warwick, found student mothers typically enrolled on courses for vocational and female-dominated professions – such as nursing, midwifery and social work – which previously did not require a degree.
“Mothers come with high expectations of particular jobs but are regularly disappointed after starting the course”
Warwick University report
“The reality of such jobs is perhaps far from what was initially expected,” said the report – called Tracking student mothers’ higher education participation and early career outcomes over time: initial choices and aspirations, HE experiences and career destinations.
The stress of having to juggle childcare and domestic work – and also in many cases paid work – with studying, also caused student mothers difficulty.
Upon graduating, many mothers put their careers on hold or returned to their old job, said the study authors.
Reasons cited by students included feeling exhausted from the university experience, wanting to spend more time with their children and partners, or a realisation their desired profession was not as family-friendly as they first thought.
Interviews with 24 student mothers found better timetabling of lectures, more information about hardship funding, improved mature student networks and a greater understanding of the demands they faced would have improved their time at university.
Overall, the research aimed to look at whether university helped student mothers achieve social mobility in comparison to their female peers without children.
It found the limited number of courses – and therefore occupations – popular among student mothers, lack of information about the reality of jobs upon graduation, and the difficulties encountered during their studies meant they experienced “relatively poor” social mobility.
“On a course where there are lots of student mothers, universities need to step up, providing a timetable with more condensed lectures”
In its recommendations, the report called for more degrees to be offered on a part-time basis, for courses to be timetabled more flexibly and for student mothers to be given priority over placements that are closer to home.
It also warned against student mothers being “ghettoised” into very vocational subjects, and urged a wider range of universities to engage with student nurses before they made course choices.
“Mothers come with high expectations of particular jobs but are regularly disappointed after starting the course,” said the report.
“Higher education institutions do not want to lose students during higher education so it makes sense for them to ensure that these women have chosen the right course. Support for student mothers is very patchy,” it said.
Clare Lyonette, who led the research, said: “On a course where there are lots of student mothers, universities need to step up, providing a timetable with perhaps more condensed lectures which could facilitate childcare, which is very costly.
“Most importantly, mothers should be provided with as much information about particular courses when they first apply to avoid later drop-out,” she added.