The impact of Covid on student parents

Research by London Met academics Jane Lewis, Heather Allison, Patrick Mulrenan and Helen Redd explores the additional pressures the pandemic is having on students with children.

Date: 15 March 2021

There has been a great deal of interest across the media on the impact of COVID on university students- for example on lack of opportunities to engage with their peers, the cost of accommodation and issues with remote learning.

However, this does not reflect the full diversity of students in Higher Education. Our research focussed on the experience of 19 students with children. It is estimated that 9 per cent of students nationally have children (2015), but there is no requirement that universities collect data on this. We are aware anecdotally that this is much higher in newer universities like London Metropolitan University, and that student parents already faced particular issues in their learning journey.

The in-depth interviews indicated that the Covid pandemic and remote learning have provided additional challenges. These include: 

  • Homeschooling their children while trying to complete their own studies. This is especially problematic for lone parents, and for students who have children of different ages. Some of the students interviewed had four children of different ages and different academic abilities 
  • Having enough space to enable home studying. In one case, the student had a partner and two children in a one-bedroom flat
  • Issues of sharing IT with partners and children, which meant in some cases that laptops and phones were shared on a rota basis. The digital divide is made wider by the sharing of IT equipment with children 
  • The closure of libraries was particularly keenly felt by student parent, who depended on the space for quiet study away from children
  • Some of the students were on furlough, or their jobs had disappeared, or they had lost income as they had to stay at  home with their children

For student parents, their main motivations to come to university was to improve the financial prospects of their families, and to act as role models to their children- to show that it is possible to go to university. The current COVID pandemic is undermining their ability to demonstrate the benefits of HE to their children, and to hide some the stresses they face from their children.


dad and children in a room strewn with toys