An evaluation of innovative HE courses for student parents

This study will evaluate two innovative programmes which aim to broaden participation in higher education by providing courses designed for student parents. The programmes are run by Birkbeck and the Open University.

Since 2007-8, Birkbeck has been running part-time courses at eight nursery education centres in areas of low educational participation, mostly in London’s East End. In this time, around 150 student parents – almost exclusively women – have enrolled on these courses. The courses are designed to meet the challenges faced by student parents in accessing and completing higher education courses, with the goal of making higher education possible for those unlikely to access such opportunities through more traditional routes. The Open University offers similar initiatives through its Community Partnership Programme at various children’s centres, whereby parents access distance learning ’Openings’ courses.

This study will evaluate these innovative courses by exploring their impact on the students' lives and the lives of their families, especially in relation to their children’s educational trajectories. The research team will evaluate the courses from three perspectives by surveying and interviewing the participants, the staff responsible for delivering the courses, and the nursery education centre staff.

This study will help fill the gaps in our knowledge about such courses, both from an institutional perspective – including ‘what works’ to attract and retain this particular student group – as well as from the viewpoint of students. The study will help universities more widely to improve their practices and policies in an evidence-based way, by informing their strategic planning and encouraging more provision for student parents which effectively meets their needs and aspirations.

Project details



Professor Claire Callender, Professor Sue Jackson, Anne Jamieson; Birkbeck, University of London

Grant amount and duration


9 January 2012 – 30 April 2015