By Katerina Christofides:
I am writing this as a culmination of two years of hard struggle, determination, and great success in the face of significant barriers to my own education, and to those around me. I wish to bring to your attention a significant flaw, a black hole of uncertainty in the current policies of the university that I would like to shine a light on, and perhaps be the catalyst for significant change.
The current policies and arrangements regarding equal access to education, and assistance to students who experience significant barriers to their education are covered under the disability policy and the equal opportunity and diversity policy.
At present, only students who have a disability themselves are recognised under the disability unit and applicable to be under an academic integration plan. What is absent from any of the policies, is a direct policy that deals with carers. Currently the only option is to apply for special consideration under extenuating circumstances for each event that may occur as a barrier to your studies. Special consideration is at the discretion of the unit coordinator, which is a hit-and-miss scenario with no guiding policy. The Student Support Services will most likely advise you to either drop a unit (or a few) to lighten your load, or defer studies, effectively limiting access to education for hundreds of students that may fall under the category of having significant caring responsibilities. I have met many fellow students who have experienced significant barriers to their access to education.
I know many mothers with young children who have had to defer or drop out due to the lack of accessible and affordable childcare on campus, due to the huge family pressures with caring for young children and trying to study at any chance they get, which always results in their marks being significantly lower than what they are really capable of. Also I know of a few fathers and mothers who are students who care for special needs children who receive no assistance at all.
I, myself, have 3 children under 5, including a set of twins and an older child with special needs. I do not qualify for assistance under the academic integration plan as I am a carer of a person with a special need/disability and do not have a disability myself. I know I am a high achieving student. When the waters are calm in my home life, I have achieved high distinctions, But when they are not, no matter how hard I try, my marks obviously suffer as a result of the disruption. There are mountains of barriers to carers that limit their participation, and their access to university which should be overcome and removed. After all, encouraging women to participate in the workforce starts with encouraging them to participate in education and not locking them out.
I would like to see consultation and the implementation of a carers policy that could be integrated with the current disability policy, to provide enforceable guidelines to assist students where they have significant caring responsibilities, in order to maintain and enhance their participation and access to education.