Widening Access Manager Gayle Hudson discusses how the OU in Wales supports students who are carers and highlights our work with student carers to develop a new resource pack.
“My son is very unpredictable, and it was difficult to plan ahead. I’d have a week scheduled to do my assignment and then something would happen with him and I’d be tied up with appointments all week and wouldn’t get my assignment done on time. My tutor was brilliant, he knew my situation and was able to give me extensions on my assignments.”Kate Blake, OU graduate and carer.
Does this sound familiar? Caring affects one in eight of us, there are 370,000 carers across Wales providing unpaid support to a friend or family member who, due to illness or disability cannot manage without their help. Many OU staff are recognised in these numbers, and we know that at least 6% of our students in Wales are carers, although we suspect this number is actually higher and are encouraging student carers to update their records with us so we can better support them.
“I studied through the night as I had to stay awake with my daughter, and then slept during the day whilst she was at school”OU student and carer
We started developing our work with carers back in 2010, with funding from The Waterloo Foundation. We developed an outreach project working with carers groups and carers across Wales. Since then we have worked closely with Carers Trust Wales and their network of partners to develop What about Me? A short personal development course for carers. This has proved a great way for carers to reflect on their skills and experiences and explore their future options for career development and study.
This year, we have been working with the OU Students Association and a group of student carers to continue to improve the support we offer carers across the OU in Wales. We have developed a carer’s pack for student carers. It’s full of information about the support offered to carers during their studies including information about:
We’ve been inundated with requests for the packs and have sent out over 200 with many more accessed on line.
“It really helped me to have audio versions of my books…enabling me to listen to my work while I did other chores, like walk the dog...”OU student and carer
Our work hasn’t stopped there, we’ve also run a training session for OU tutors at the Wales tutor conference in June and I was joined by student carer Kate Blake to run a session for office and student support staff at the OU in Wales during Carers’ Week.
Kate, a recent graduate, shared her story of the challenges and rewards of studying with the OU. Kate helped us to develop the carers pack and her big tip to share with other students is to talk to your tutors and the student support team and let them know your circumstances so they can help.
“Don’t be afraid to call your tutor if have any problems, they are there to help you”
During Carers week, we also worked with the OU students Association to run an online forum for our student carers to offer a space for peer support and sharing. This was so successful that the Students Association are hoping to support a carers’ forum on an on-going basis. There is also a Students Association closed Facebook group for student carers.
In Wales, we continue to work closely with Carers Trust and the OU are co-hosting an event in the autumn to share best practice with other Universities in Wales around this important area.
On a UK wide basis, the Open University has an established Care and Caring Network for staff and students who have an interest in this work. The network is one of the official groups within the OU’s equalities unit and is working to support staff and students with caring responsibilities. It also has a focus on research and curriculum. The network continues to develop and raise the profile of the needs of carers within our OU community. Work of the network has also helped the OU achieve the Carers UK ‘carer positive award’ for employers.
If you’d like to find out more about our work with carers or get involved please contact me Gayle.Hudson@open.ac.uk
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