May is called “Family Month” in Korea, with Children’s Day on May 5 and Parents’ Day on May 8. This month thus reminds us that we are part of a community of families and loved ones forged by mutual love and responsibility.
Nowadays, many universities have expanded their focus from solely higher education to the enhancement of student diversity and support for individuals’ well-being. However, many universities in Korea including Ewha lack adequate policies, facilities, and information to systematically support diverse roles students take on in their daily lives.
With the belief that Ewha should be interested in student support and fulfill those provisions, Ewha Voice sought out institutions that cares for student parents during wintertime overseas expeditions. Meet the University of Leeds, a UK university with expertise in support for student parents and carers.
Support for student parents in Leeds began with the university’s commitment to supporting mature students. In the face of a decreasing number of mature students coming to study, the university created the Lifelong Learning Centre to encourage and enable students from diverse walks of life to enroll. Through this center, many students who are parents or have families of their own, began to recieve support for their children. Thus, the idea of supporting student parents walked hand in hand with the universitiy's wanting to support mature students.
The University of Leeds currently has policies for students going through pregnancy or those who have caring responsibilities, but the Lifelong Learning Centre believes it can provide more practical expertise in furthering such students’ well-being.
“I think more expert knowledge comes from the Lifelong Learning Centre because we just work with so many mature students that are more likely to have children,” said Paul Devlin, Student Experience Officer of the Lifelong Learning Centre.
The support for these students is not limited to those with young children. A student taking care of an adult-child, his or her parents, or any other responsibilities are all policy beneficiaries.
“We would not distinguish whether someone is an LGBT parent, older parent or younger parent,” Devlin said. “If they have any sort of caring responsibilities, they are all considered as student parents.”
Undergraduate students who are parents can receive financial support from the school regarding the costs of raising their children. They can also get counseling for such financial matters from the Leeds University Union.
The school also provides family accommodation, where students can live with their children or family at a university-owned facility on campus. Students may also seek aid through UNIPOL, an advice service for students who may want private accommodation across the city, and live with their family near the school.
The Lifelong Centre regularly holds social events where student parents and their families can come together. The events often have a special theme; some are held around holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and others involve activities such as magic shows or watching children films together.
“Having these social events gives these students a chance to be around other student parents and develop a sense of belonging,” Devlin said. “They can also share valuable information and support for each other.”
These events are especially important for the student parent’s family as well. Such social events give the family members an opportunity to see what the university is like, know how important education is, and experience the school activities he or she is involved in.
“The support of the family is crucial for student parents to succeed in university,” Devlin explained. “That is why we want the family to come to campus and understand the importance of what the student is trying to do here.”
The Lifelong Learning Centre shares a lot between the Student Union. A separate organization from the university, the Student Union also has a variety of clubs and communities, including a mature student community alongside one for student parents. Therefore, many student-led activities are proceeded as well.
Many facilities for student parents can be found around campus. Toyboxes are placed at the Lifelong Learning Centre, the International Offices, and the Leeds University Union. Signposts mark the locations of rooms where students can change diapers and breastfeed. Baby products can also be found behind any reception center throughout the university.
“Just like having social events for student parents, providing these facilities and supplies also instils a sense of belonging and welcoming,” Devlin said.
The university also has its own nursery called Bright Beginnings. Located on campus, the childcare centre allows students and staff to have their children looked after all day while they study or work. Bright Beginnings accommodates up to 168 children aged between three months and five years. It also operates a Playscheme during the school holidays for children aged between three and 11.
Without any expertise or experience, it would be difficult for a university to support a pregnant student or any student that holds caring responsibilities. Though it would be unlikely to implement such provisions right now in Korean universities, Ewha Voice encourages its readers to take interest in the issue and voice the need for such policies and support for student parents.