Policy | New Initiatives for Lone Parent Access to Higher Level Education

The Department of Education has today issued a review completed by academics at Maynooth University which sought to identify the barriers lone parents face in accessing higher level education. The review also examined the trends in participation and completion rates by lone parents in higher education and the range of measures that are currently available to support lone parents. One Family was consulted as part of this process as a representative stakeholder group.

The recommendations of the Report echo One Family’s recent Pre-Budget Submission. Lone parents need additional supports that recognise their parenting responsibilities in order to access educational opportunities.

A summary of the key findings from the report is below:

  • Lone parents have attracted considerable policy attention in welfare and education and training, but much less specific attention has been paid to lone parents in higher education and seeking to widen access for these families.
  • Key areas of social policy which are impacting on access to education include One Parent Family Payment (OFP) reform, housing, and childcare policy.
  • Some lone parents are likely to experience considerable challenges in meeting the costs of attending college, paying rent, raising a family, working, and paying for childcare. These financial constraints are likely to influence decision-making around attending higher education either on a part-time or full-time basis.
  • While the maintenance portion of SUSI education grants only provides a contribution towards the costs of participating in education, because lone parents have higher living costs than school leavers, the efficacy of the student grant is limited further.
  • The complexity of the current system of supports was also highlighted in the report, including the inadequate dissemination of information, guidance and awareness raising to lone parents regarding the ‘bundles’ of supports that are offered by different government departments and agencies. Intreo case workers also require more training and awareness in this area.

Based on these findings the following recommendations have been made to Government to increase lone parents’ participation in education at third level:

  • The maintenance grant contribution by SUSI must be reviewed and increased for all students, and particularly for lone parents.
  • Lone parents who have transferred to BTEA were highlighted as the most economically vulnerable group among lone parent welfare recipients. The re-instatement of the student grant scheme – maintenance grant – for this group would create a more equitable, less complicated and targeted approach for supporting lone parents in higher education.
  • Meeting the needs of lone parents should be part of the ethos of each Higher Education Institutions (HEI). This needs to be very explicitly stated by colleges and universities who have the responsibility of welcoming lone parents into its campus and giving them the tools and supports to succeed.
  • Provide additional funding for lone parents either in the form of cash transfers or in the form of universal scholarships for lone parents within HEIs
  • Measures introduced under the proposed Affordable Childcare Scheme should be articulated in a clear and meaningful way to lone parents, HEIs, lone parent representative groups and Intreo case workers. It is also important that all lone parents, irrespective of welfare entitlements, or if they are studying part-time or full-time have access to supported childcare.

The full report  ‘An Independent Review to Identify the Supports and Barriers for Lone Parents in Accessing Higher Education and to Examine Measures to Increase Participation’  is available here.

Following publication of the report, the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD, and the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, have announced €16.5m for new initiatives to widen access to higher education over the next three years, and declared a focus on helping lone parents to access higher level education.

The initiatives, according to the Department of Education and Skills, are:

  • Funding bursaries worth €5,000 for 600 students coming from non-traditional backgrounds into college, with support for at least 120 socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents. This will be a €6m regional call over three years.
  • Funding for support programmes to help 2,000 students, of which 200 will be lone parents, from non-traditional backgrounds enter college and successfully complete their course. This will be a €7.5m regional call over three years.
  • A further €3m over three years in increased funding for the hardship supports to help students, with lone parents being prioritised.
  • The groups being targeted include: entrants from under-represented socio-economic groups and communities; entrants with disabilities; mature entrants; members of the Irish Traveller community; students entering on the basis of a further education award; part-time flexible learners; as well as socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents and ethnic minorities.

While these initiatives are to be welcomed, we call on Government to take further action on the recommendations contained in this comprehensive Report and in our Pre-Budget Submission, and to ensure that appropriate budgetary decisions are made in the coming weeks to support these measures.