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Caring about Student Carers

Caring about Student Carers

Project Aims

This project aims to better understand and support students who are carers. Recognising that student carers often face multiple challenges, this project investigated student experience of distance learning at the Open University (OU).  Framing experience of study as emerging out of the affordances for learning offered by an institution and student subjectivities, the project foregrounded how students negotiated their learning trajectory through their modules. 


  1. To explore how students who are carers experience and manage Open University (OU) study
  2. To provide a sound foundation for further University-wide research in this area


20 telephone interviews were conducted with Health Welfare and Social Care (HWSC) students with caring responsibilities.  These were transcribed and analysed using a combination of Framework analysis and Thematic analysis. 


Student-carers at the OU faced similar challenges to carers elsewhere – financial and time limitations, along with challenging, exhausting and unpredictable demands.  While the OU was chosen for its flexibility and affordability, caring could be incompatible with the time demands and routines of successful study. Carers actively managed their time, boundaries and others to maintain their study. Study was enjoyable, confidence building, potentially career enhancing and offered the potential to improve care. Student-carers were ambivalent about OU support with some keeping their caring responsibilities private.  Some tutors were very supportive and others less so.  Student tutor groups were not a priority.


For carers, caring responsibilities represented continuities in their sense of self. The layering on of university commitments potentially created tensions but did not disrupt the primacy of their caring role.  Rather, study reinforced carers’ sense of personal integrity.  Increased university flexibility would enhance affordances for carer learning.  Follow-up interviews with the same students are planned for a year’s time. 

Project team

Mary Larkin, (Principal Investigator) Senior Lecturer, (WELS)

Manik Deepak-Gopinath, Lecturer (Ageing) (WELS)

Chris Kubiak, Senior Lecturer, (WELS)

Julie Messenger Senior Lecturer (Nursing Lead) (WELS)

Jitka Vseteckova, Senior Lecturer, (WELS),

Read the full report here:  Web report Caring about student carers (1).htm