Education: Making higher education inclusive for staff and students with caring responsibilities

Prof Marie-Pierre Moreau

ARU research on the challenges affecting higher education (HE) staff and students with caring responsibilities and how those issues are compounded by university policies has led institutions to change their policies and practices to take into account the needs of carers.

Universities in the UK and abroad, and UK national bodies including the University and College Union (UCU) and UCAS, have used Prof Moreau’s research to review and change their policies and practices to take into account the needs of carers. Internationally, the EU PLOTINA project has drawn on the research to consider a broad range of caring responsibilities in their assessment and promotion of gender balance in research organisations.

A UK-based film director and a US-based visual artist have created a film and a series of drawings based on the research, which have led to greater awareness and better understanding of the issues faced by carers.

Prof Marie-Pierre Moreau

Prof Marie-Pierre Moreau

Marie-Pierre is a Professor of Education in the School of Education and Social Care. Her research is primarily informed by feminist post-structuralist theories and located at the nexus of education, work and equality issues, with specific reference to gender.

Find out more about Prof Marie-Pierre Moreau Explore ARU researchers' original work via our open access repository, ARRO

Research summary

Prof Moreau has investigated caregivers in academic settings. Her work has generated an improved understanding of the lives of carers in HE and of how societal and university cultures create care-based inequalities.

She has been Principal Investigator on projects including the analysis of national and institutional HE policies and in-depth interviews conducted in England with student carers, academics and managers with caring responsibilities, and HE professional staff based in student services, human resources departments and equality and diversity (EDI) units. Her projects found:

  1. Students and academic staff who are carers face a range of issues related to finance, mental and physical health and well-being, retention, and – for staff – career progression.
  2. Some support staff and academic staff draw on deficit discourses of care (disempowering patterns of thought, language, or practice) and hold prejudiced views of carers.
  3. Significant inequalities among carers in addition to inequalities between those with and without caring responsibilities. These are based on factors such as the nature of their caring responsibilities, their family circumstances, gender, position, institution, department and line manager’s perspective. Those who do not fit the narrow category of parenting healthy, ‘abled’ children are more likely to struggle in reconciling their carer and academic identities. In particular, this concerns those who do not fit the archetype of the academic, i.e. academics who identify as LGBT, BME, working-class, and/or women; as well as the parents of children with a disability or special needs and those caring for someone ill or elderly. These groups are less likely to receive institutional support.
  4. Institutional policies and practices compound the issues faced by carers in ways which are more complex and less ‘top-down’ than previously assumed. Due to the levels of misrecognition faced by some carers, sympathetic ‘localised’ policymaking and informal arrangements at the micro-level are favoured by them over formal support, particularly if they have complex caring responsibilities. This in turn raises equality issues in relation to the support that carers receive.
Someone working on a laptop at a kitchen table while on the phone, while cuddling a child, with another child next to them.

Summary of the impact

  • Higher education (HE) institutions in several countries changed their policies on staff and students who are carers
  • Increased awareness of the needs of carers who work in HE
  • Improvement to the lives of carers who work in HE

Impact

Changing sector-wide and institutional policies on carers

At higher education level

Since 2018 Prof Moreau has advised HR, Equality Diversity and Inclusion, and Student Services staff at universities in the UK, Australia and Ireland on the development of carer-friendly policies and practices.

83% of survey respondents across Ireland and the UK report that since September 2018 they have changed or have plans to change policies and practices in their institution, as a result of the intervention. For example, some respondents stated that they were now scheduling seminars at lunchtime or stating they’d “encourage [the] greater representation of carers” and “recognize their greater emotional load”.

The Inclusivity Network coordinator and Faculty student adviser at ARU noted that the research led to

'changes to [ARU] HR policy documents making it clearer that compassionate leave could cover relatives as well as children and to encourage staff and managers to be more aware of options around leave where a terminal illness had been diagnosed…we now record the type of compassionate leave and have also now included care as a category in our staff survey'.

The University of Plymouth used the research findings to inform their Athena Swan submission (November 2018) and to design a survey that influenced their action plan for gender equality.

Internationally

At University College Cork (UCC) the research raised awareness and led to a better understanding that existing policies are focused towards those who are care-free, and created “significant impetus” for policy change. This led directly to the set-up of a carers’ network. In a post-workshop survey 100% of respondents stated that Prof Moreau’s work had raised their awareness of the impact of university policy and practices on carers and 80% had plans to share what they had learned.

Prof Moreau’s research also informed the widening participation agenda of the University of Newcastle (Australia) as they undertook a review of their policies for carers.

At the sector-wide level

Prof Moreau gave evidence and provided guidance to the UCU equality sub-committee of the National Executive Committee in September 2018, informing their national campaign on carers. Her work also informed the inclusion of a new series of questions capturing students’ caring responsibilities in UCAS’ Undergraduate Application Management Service 2019, leading to greater visibility for student carers.

At transnational level

Prof Moreau’s research, including her input as an EU expert-monitor for the PLOTINA project (which promotes gender balance and inclusion in research), has enabled discussion around care among the PLOTINA consortium and led to wider considerations around caring responsibilities in the Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) developed by members of the consortium to measure and tackle gender inequalities. The GEPs have been implemented in:

  • six institutions across six countries
  • 48 research organisations across six countries
  • seven research funding organisations across two countries

They are available to other organisations as an open-access resource, including a ‘library of actions’ comprising various initiatives related to gender- and care-based equity.

Improving the lives of carers who work and study in academia

The development of specific policies and practices at the institutional level has contributed to improving the lives of carers in the institutions where they have been implemented.

Carers have gained confidence in requesting support, raising awareness amongst staff and managers that caring can be defined in a variety of ways which will have a positive impact of staff who are experiencing a period of caring in their lives.

'It has been personally empowering to discover the work of Prof Moreau, to accept that I’m not a super-human robotic like "care-free" academic, and to network with her and others as they seek to raise awareness of ‘care-full’ academia and to change practices and policies in High Education to improve the lives of staff with caring responsibilities'.

Academic’s blog post

Raising awareness among HE policymakers and practitioners

Awareness has been increased through the development and roll-out of non-academic engagement tools, including the production of the film Carers and Careers in Academia, which has been shown at events and is hosted on institutional and policymakers’ websites as well as YouTube and Vimeo.

Other media include a range of articles and blog posts for high-profile policymaking organisations and national media and the production of drawings inspired by Prof Moreau’s research.

An Australian university administrator argued that the film 'Should be compulsory viewing for University policymakers and managers' and another claims that 'All #HigherEducation managers should watch this video about carers in academia'.

Prof Moreau’s work inspired the US-based cartoonist and academic Prof Sally Campbell Galman to produce a series of illustrated ‘vignettes’. Shared online and to be exhibited at ARU and at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (US) in 2021, they raise awareness of the challenges faced by many HE carers.

'As a single mother in academia who is also a working artist, the experience of working closely with the findings from Professor Moreau's research has been deeply illuminating. Not only did I gain greater insight into my own experience, but also into the experiences of my colleagues who are carers and my own possible negative or positive impacts upon their work life experiences.'

Prof Campbell Galman

After attending a seminar where the material was shared, the Director of WIASN (Women in Academia Support Network, an international online community of over 10,000 women working in academia) mentioned that it had changed her understanding of care.

She commented she will 'bring caring into the workshops I deliver as part of staff training and development', and that she would share what she had learned through the WIASN network and her University Researcher Development committee, for discussion and awareness raising.

About more about the changes in professional practice.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We have mapped our REF 2021 impact case studies against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, are an urgent call for action. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

This case study is mapped to SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, target 4.a.

See also

Read the full REF 2021 impact case study for UoA 23: Making higher education inclusive for staff and students with caring responsibilities (PDF)

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