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Supporting carers to succeed in Australian Higher Education

Extract from Executive summary: Australians who care for people with a disability, illness, or a broader need often embody many of the qualities sought by universities. In providing unpaid labour to support family members and friends, carers typically demonstrate resilience, selflessness, and a commitment to societal health, wellbeing, and cohesion. Provision of this critical support is often required while simultaneously managing high demands on time and limited financial resources (ABS 2018a, 2018b). Young carers in particular have been identified as holding relatively low levels of education (Department of Social Services [DSS], 2019). The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges for carers. Collectively, evidence suggests both a need and an opportunity for universities to develop specific policies to attract and support those who care for others.... Through our national survey, we found student carers were highly motivated to succeed in higher education. Student carers identified a range of skills developed through their caring roles that were beneficial to themselves and their peers at university. These skills include time management, empathy, compassion and patience, as well as specific expertise with relevance to areas of study, including nursing skills and knowledge of disabilities. Carers also improved the broader student experience by sharing different perspectives, advocating for students, and providing direct assistance with coursework. Despite these strengths, juggling caring and study produced considerable time pressure, financial hardship, and lower levels of wellbeing compared with their non-caring peers. Circumstances were often made more difficult by the rigidity of course structures and study requirements.... Another notable finding was that a quarter of student carers never disclosed their carer status to anyone at university. This trend leaves many student carers invisible and makes it more difficult to provide appropriate and timely support where required. Among the most common reasons for not disclosing carer status were never being asked and seeing no benefit to disclosure. It is likely some carers also feared being stigmatised and/or defined by their caring role. These findings highlight the importance of increasing awareness and understanding of carers within the university community.

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