The GW4 Alliance of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities has written to government ministers as part of their campaign to raise the vital issue of access for postgraduate students to government-backed childcare schemes.
GW4 is renewing its campaign calling on government to extend the current undergraduate Childcare Grant to include postgraduate students, to help ensure that those with children, and those from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds, are not disincentivised from studying for higher qualifications, a precursor for many careers.
Read the full letter to Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Minister of State, Department of Education
Read the full letter to Mr David Johnston OBE MP, Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing
Read the full letter to Mr Robin Walker MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee
Read the full letter to Ms Bridget Phillipson MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Read the full letter to Mr Peter Kyle MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Technology and Innovation
Read the full letter to Sir David Bell KCB DL, Former Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education of United Kingdom
There is currently a gap in provision for postgraduate students. Those studying for Masters and PhDs are ineligible for Childcare Grants, which are in place for full-time undergraduates to help with childcare costs for children under 15 years old. They are also ineligible for the childcare benefits available for workers, unless they are in substantial paid employment in addition to their studies.
The expectation of combining postgraduate study, substantial outside work and childcare responsibilities is incompatible for many parents. 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 between £15,000 to £19,000 per year and the average cost of a full time childcare place for an under 2 year old over £14,000 a year, is it not enough to also cover childcare costs.
Kate Bowen-Viner, a parent and a Social Policy PhD student at the University of Bristol fully supports GW4’s campaign: “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.
“I completely support GW4’s campaign and hope that the government and higher education sector will work together and with parents studying postgraduate degrees to change things.”
GW4 initially wrote to Michelle Donelan MP and Gillian Keegan MP in April last year, 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 UUK, the Russell Group, HEPI and the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, GW4 Alliance Director, said: “We are calling on government to address the ineligibility of postgraduate researchers for government-backed childcare subsidies.
“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."
Members of the GW4 Alliance recently attended Onward’s launch in Westminster of their 'A New Deal for Parents' project. Panellists including Siobhan Baillie MP, Rachel Maclean MP and Neil O’Brien OBE MP discussed the struggles and barriers preventing young people from having the families they want, when they want, and how to address these.
GW4 institutions host over 40 externally funded Doctoral Training Centres and Partnerships and are home to over 7000 doctoral researchers, of which 10 to 20 percent have declared parental/caring responsibilities at registration. The latest Higher Education Statistics Agency data indicates this change in legislation could directly impact approximately 10,000 postgraduate researchers and nearly 50,000 postgraduate taught candidates, across the country currently. This is therefore a relatively small change financially that would fundamentally speak to the equality, diversity and inclusion of higher education and the high-skilled jobs critical to our national productivity.
GW4 is committed to creating optimal research and educational environments that enable our postgraduate researchers to push forward the boundaries of knowledge and innovation. Most recently the GW4 Alliance launched GW4 Connect – a suite of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) programmes bringing together postgraduate researchers from diverse backgrounds (including those with parental responsibilities), to form networks of support for marginalised and underrepresented communities in higher education.
GW4 routinely works with other universities, research institutes, businesses and charities to create a highly skilled workforce for the UK and worldwide.