Call for childcare support for postgraduate students

The heads of four universities have written to the Government to ask them to extend the Childcare Grant to postgraduate students.

Postgraduate female student at her laptop studying

 

Leaders of four UK universities are urging the Government to extend the Childcare Grant for undergraduates to postgraduate students.

The vice-chancellors of the GW4 Alliance of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities have written to government ministers calling for an extension as part of an ongoing campaign to ensure that those with children, and those from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds are not put off from studying for higher qualifications due to childcare costs.

Currently full-time undergraduates are entitled to a Childcare Grant to help cover childcare costs for children under 15. But this is not available to postgraduates, even though they are also ineligible for childcare benefits available to workers unless they are in employment for over 16 hours a week at minimum wage and above in addition to their studies.

The four universities say that most PhD programmes expect postgraduate students to study full time and some prohibit undertaking any regular outside work. In exchange, postgraduate students are usually offered a stipend – a fixed sum of money paid as a salary – to cover the cost of housing and other living expenses. However, with a typical stipend for a postgraduate student being between £15,000 to £19,000 per year and the average cost of a full time childcare place for an under two year old being over £14,000 a year, they say that it is not enough to also cover childcare costs.

Kate Bowen-Viner, a parent and a Social Policy PhD student at the University of Bristol, says: “I spend my entire PhD stipend on childcare. This is because of the government’s rules around who can access financial support with childcare and the rules around my stipend. I feel like this government and the university system does not want me, or parents like me, to undertake postgraduate qualifications or progress in their careers. It’s disheartening and on some days, I feel like leaving my PhD is the more sensible option than continuing in academia.

“Preventing postgraduate students from accessing financial support for childcare means preventing many parents from accessing higher education and achieving jobs that require these qualifications. It also limits the access children of postgraduate students have to early years education. Put simply, it is unequitable.”

GW4 initially wrote to Michelle Donelan MP and Gillian Keegan MP last April and have been campaigning on this issue since. GW4’s original letters have been replicated by many other universities across country and the issue has been raised with other university bodies.

Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, GW4 Alliance Director, said: “Our campaign is particularly relevant with the cost of living crisis exacerbating the issues and we are concerned as to the impact of this current policy on the diversity and inclusivity of postgraduate research. There are solutions for both undergraduate students and staff at our universities, but unfortunately, postgraduate researchers have fallen between the gaps in provision, usually unable to meet the eligibility requirements for government schemes or student support.

“We want to work with government to ensure parents of young children are not disincentivised from upskilling or reskilling and pursuing postgraduate qualifications and then accessing the high-skilled jobs that require these qualifications.”

Meanwhile, a report on childcare in Wales was issued today by the Bevan Foundation and calls for a radical approach to childcare in Wales with universal free childcare for around 15 hours a week for 0-4 year olds for 48 weeks, with additional hours available to those who need them.



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