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Student-Parents: It’s a juggling act

Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016
What struggles do student-parents face? OU lecturer, Helen Owton, reflects on her experience and gives out some handy advice. 

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student parent on a laptop with toys surrounding her In 2005, I found myself starting a new life as a single mother at 25 years old. I was thrown into a new and scary situation and I had no idea how I was going to give my daughter the life I wanted her to have. Moreover, I didn’t know how I was going to be the role model I wanted her to see as her mother. With the birth of my daughter, however, came the opening of a new chapter. I had always wanted to go to university so I investigated.

Initially it was quite hard to find out what support was available and whether or not I would be able to afford it. I found out that with a tight budget, resourcefulness, and the aim to study extremely hard, I’d be able to do it. So, in September 2005, I started the course as a single mother with a nine-month-old baby girl, renting a flat, living on various benefits, working part-time and receiving a student loan. I’m sure there are many Open University students who can relate to this situation and have started their learning journey here.

Many lecturers and tutors working at the Open University recognise that "student-parents" are usually juggling studies, family life, part/full-time work and maybe other caring responsibilities. Individual circumstances (young, mature, disabled, single) means that becoming a student-parent can entail a slow, time-consuming and strenuous adjustment phase when starting university which varies from student to student (Owton, 2016).

The first year can be particularly tough. When I was at University, I kept quiet about being a mother because I looked young and I felt that people would judge me if I told them I was a single mother. I felt like giving up on many occasions, especially in my first year. Then I found networks of support (e.g. a sports team, forums) which helped me not to give up. I started getting better at reading and writing by exploring helpful web resources (An example of a study skills resource at the OU), and was able to combine student-parent life much better than in my first year, with the support of my friends that circled round my daughter and me.

Funding is often high on student-parent’s agenda. I recognise that the Higher Education landscape was quite different in 2005 and, of course, fees have increased to approx. £9,000 at a red brick university. Now, I realise that the Open University might have been a more accessible, feasible and flexible option for me.  Fees are less, the cost of studying can be spread over time and student-parents can work part-time without it affecting any benefits they might be entitled to (there's further information on entitled benefits here).

The Open University has a Students Association (OUSA) which takes student welfare seriously. During your OU learning experience, OUSA can offer various additional support (e.g. Peer Support, financial advice, disability support) which you can request at any time. For more information please visit:

What I learned was not to be afraid to ask for support. Indeed, the Open University provides other resources for student-parents which might be helpful:

Student-Parent Support:

Being a student-parent is not easy but when graduation day comes you can look back on what you have achieved. It can often feel like the experience is only just starting to unravel your potential!


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