Help for students juggling studying and childcare
Among the new initiatives at the University of Sussex is a family room in the library, where parents can study while their children play.
While Amina Ika gets on with writing her doctoral thesis in the University of Sussex Library, her two small children, Jadiel and Bernie, are happily playing just a few feet away from her with a toy kitchen.
Amina and her boys, aged 21 months and three years, are among the regular visitors to the Library’s family room, where parents can study while still keeping watch over their young ones.
The space, which is being trialled for a year, was created following feedback from the University’s student-parent group.
“We have always allowed children in the Library,” says Maria Smith, Library Planning & Support Services Supervisor. “But it was hard for parents to study while also ensuring their children were quiet and occupied.”
The family room, formerly a microfiche reading room, has a gated play area for toddlers and small children, which is equipped with toys, rugs, beanbags and books.
There’s also a screened-off area for breastfeeding, while the room has two desktop computers, as well as points for laptops.
“It’s made a big difference to me,” says Amina, a Nigerian who was awarded a scholarship to study for a PhD in Economics. “I can access software on the desktop that I don’t have on my laptop. And my children love coming here. They’re excited when I say we’re going to the Library.”
The initiative is one of many that the University offers to make studying a little easier for students with parental responsibilities.
Amina, together with her husband, Micah, and their children, are among nearly 60 families that live on the Sussex campus.
The University has a range of one- and two-bedroomed flats that are grouped together in Park Village, Northfield and Lewes Court, as well as three flats off campus.
Elodie Adast, Housing Officer who specifically looks after students with families, says: “There is a great demand for accommodation on campus, particularly from international postgraduates.
“They are attracted to Sussex for the quality of the education here, and because we have such a beautiful and safe campus.”
Elodie has produced a handbook that gives parents information about living on campus, as well as advice about renting properties in Brighton, and fun family activities in the local area.
Claudia Obando, who is studying for a PhD in Science and Technology Policy, lives in a two-bedroomed apartment in Park Village with her partner, Leonardo Rojas, and their three-year-old daughter, Luana.
Claudia first came to Sussex in 2008 to take a Master’s degree. Two years ago she was awarded a Chancellor’s International Research Scholarship.
“I was thrilled to be returning to Sussex,” says Claudia, who comes from Colombia. “We already knew it would be a nice environment for Luana.”
Claudia shares childcare duties with Leonardo, a Linux Analyst in the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, while Luana also attends the Co-operative Childcare nursery on campus.
Mixing with other families on campus is key to avoiding feelings of isolation for many of the students with children.
Since March, a garden that was once part of a former campus crèche is now where parents can bring their children on Friday afternoons for ‘plant and play’.
Activities, organised by the parents together with the University’s Housing Services and Sussex Estates and Facilities, have included making bird feeders, creating a sensory garden, and growing fruit and vegetables in planter boxes.
Elodie Adast says: “It’s been fun for the parents to be able to get together and for the children to be able to get messy and be a bit noisy.”
Tim Westlake, Chief Operating Officer at Sussex, says: “It’s very hard to study while being a parent, yet universities can also be great environments for bringing up children. Our aim is to help make Sussex accessible to students of all backgrounds.”