Tracking student mothers' HE participation and early careers

This study examined the experiences of a large and diverse group of student mothers during and after Higher Education (HE) to assess the effect of their participation in HE on their social mobility in comparison with students of the same age without children. The study had three components: 

  • A comprehensive literature review.
  • Quantitative, longitudinal analysis of four waves of data from 'Futuretrack', a longitudinal student survey.
  • Follow-up qualitative interviews with a sample of student mothers.
Key findings
  • There is a trend for mothers to do a particular degree with a specific job in mind, such as midwifery, teaching or social work, but they are often poorly-informed about what those jobs would entail when they applied. As a result, they often dropped out late into the degree or during a postgraduate year, with placements on some of the courses “very unforgiving” and often representing a “crunch point”.
  • The stress of having to juggle childcare and domestic work – and in many cases paid work – with studying is a particular problem for student mothers.
  • Inequalities do not appear to break down as a result of going to university. Whilst some student mothers can and do achieve social mobility, in that they progress into a better job than before, this group of students experience relatively poor social mobility, in comparison with other female students.
  • The majority of mothers really valued the whole higher education experience and felt that it benefited them in terms of increased self-confidence, self-fulfilment and an ability to help their own children make decisions on higher education.
  • Advice and support for student mothers should focus on widening participation in different degree courses, not solely on vocational courses at lower-ranked universities
  • Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) should identify and target those who need additional support at application stage. 
  • HEIs should offer more courses on a part-time basis and consider the impact of timetabling on student mothers. 
  • Simple categorisations and measures of “success” from HE (i.e. a graduate job) need to be extended and re-evaluated as this could reduce HEIs’ willingness to accept students with more varied backgrounds.
Project details



Dr Clare Lyonette, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick

Grant amount and duration:


1 June 2013 - 31 January 2015



Tracking student mothers’ higher education participation and early career outcomes over time: initial choices and aspirations, HE experiences and career destinations by Clare Lyonette, Gaby Atfield, Heike Behle and Lynn Gambin, Warwick IER, August 2015

Executive summary (PDF)

Full report (PDF)

Literature review (PDF)