The Access to Education for Carers Project was initially designed to be a 12 month long project ending in September 2011. Kindly funded by The Waterloo Foundation1, the project sought to engage Welsh carers of all ages in learning opportunities, specifically aiming to raise the aspirations and opportunities for carers to study higher education so that they can enhance their knowledge, skills and confidence. After the success of the initial year, and with on-going support from The Waterloo Foundation, the project ran until December 2013. This report seeks to evaluate the success of the project, identify critical success factors for higher education institutions working with carers, and lessons for future project work. This report and its recommendations are intended to be useful for all institutions working with students who are carers, carers’ organisations and other stakeholders.
Engage directly with 64 carers across Wales, mostly through Openings 2 courses offering 15 credits as an introduction to higher education study.
Build a database of carers’ organisations and contacts in Wales, through which to reach carers directly.
Help to influence wider discussion about carers’ needs throughout the higher education sector.
Further test engagement methods and establish a model that is transferable across different widening access groups.
The principal aim of this report is to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the Access to Education for Carers project, and to add to the body of knowledge and understanding regarding carers and their needs as students.
Reason for the evaluation
• Carers are a priority group for many institutions, particularly those engaged in widening access.
• Need to evaluate project work to ensure lessons learned about how to engage and support carers in future.
• Position project (and lessons) within the broader context of changes to Welsh higher education, and the experiences of carers (particularly in the current economic circumstances).
A literature review has been conducted to gain a broad understanding of the context in which carers access education opportunities and the support which they require. The literature review included both desk based review of all relevant literature including journals, articles, current known data and analysis of the policy context in which the project operates including forthcoming challenges. It can be found in Section 3.
Qualitative research was undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of carers. In particular we undertook:
• Interviews: Telephone interviews with 13 carers from across Wales. Key themes were identified from these interviews, and detailed case studies prepared (these are available in Annex A).
• A survey of project participants was distributed and completed by 31 carers from across Wales. The findings from this survey are complimented by additional and separate research being undertaken by the Open University in Wales in conjunction with the NUS Wales into part time students in Wales. Analysis from both surveys is included in Section 4.
• Data review: This evaluation also reviewed all project data relating to participants including number of enquiries, retention, and successful completion (including partial completion) and total participants.
• Education providers need to provide flexible provision for carers to engage with, both in terms of mode of study and on course support.
Previous educational experiences
• Education providers need to work in partnership with carers’ organisations to build on progression opportunities from and to community and adult education, further education and higher education to ensure carers are offered opportunities to study that are most appropriate to them.
Impact of OU study
• Institutions should consider ways of progressing students from informal to formal learning and emphasise the importance of introductory courses at higher education level to build confidence.
Clear communications for carers
• Education providers need to produce information and marketing materials specifically addressing the needs and interests of carers.
• At the point of course registration, providers should note if students are carers and offer additional support and information as needed through their programme of study.
• Interventions including projects like this should be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure the needs of carers are being addressed.
Mode of study & curriculum offer
• Institutions should identify which of its student body are carers in the same way, for example, that disabled students are identified, so they can offer appropriate support and guidance.
• Support for carers needs to be integrated across the curriculum not just for the first access modules.
• Institutions need to clarify what additional support they can offer carers and make this clear to their students who are carers.
• There needs to be more staff training especially targeted at student support staff and tutors around the needs of carers.
Bursary funding & support
• Institutions should communicate clearly to carers the costs of study and the financial support that’s available for carers.
• Learning providers should consider applying for discrete funds to support on-going bursary arrangements to encourage carers to take up learning opportunities.
• It is important for larger institutions to support the work of smaller local groups.
• Larger distance learning institutions like the Open University in Wales need capacity at a local level to build and maintain relationships.