Fam­ily-friendly PhDs are a must

Andrew Bas­den is a pro­fes­sor of hu­man fac­tors and phi­los­o­phy in in­for­ma­tion sys­tems at the Univer­sity of Sal­ford

THE (Times Higher Education) - - OPIN­ION -

An im­por­tant co­hort of hu­man­ity is largely pre­cluded from mak­ing good re­search con­tri­bu­tions dur­ing their PhDs: in­ter­na­tional stu­dents with fam­ily com­mit­ments.

The whole PhD process dis­crim­i­nates against them. One of my PhD stu­dents is from the Mid­dle East and is a sin­gle mother. Hav­ing two chil­dren in UK schools takes up a lot of time.

While young, sin­gle PhD stu­dents can work late into the evening, read widely, write pa­pers that build up their CVs, and also take part in the com­mu­nal life of the re­search com­mu­nity, she can­not.

Sin­gle par­ents in the UK might be able to pay for child­care, but her schol­ar­ship does not al­low this. UK and Euro­pean Union stu­dents might be able to study part time, but in­ter­na­tional stu­dents must study full-time in or­der to com­ply with visa reg­u­la­tions.

She is not alone: I have two other PhD stu­dents in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions – all of them come from cul­tures where fam­ily life takes a higher pri­or­ity than it does in the UK.

Not only is the time avail­able for the pur­suit of a PhD se­ri­ously re­duced, but stress and pres­sure in­crease. Other mem­bers of the fam­ily also suf­fer. In­creased stress hin­ders one’s abil­ity to read widely and think crit­i­cally and cre­atively, which are im­por­tant for PhDs. It’s a vi­cious cir­cle and preclu­sion from the PhD com­mu­nity ex­ac­er­bates these prob­lems.

All this puts such stu­dents at a dis­ad­van­tage com­pared with most PhD stu­dents. With a thin­ner CV, her prospects for a ca­reer in or out of academia are re­duced.

Such bar­ri­ers can dis­in­cen­tivise those with chil­dren from un­der­tak­ing PhDs, es­pe­cially sin­gle moth­ers and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

“PhDs de­mand sac­ri­fices!” is an opin­ion that I have heard voiced in re­sponse to this is­sue. Why should the sac­ri­fice be greater for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents with fam­ily com­mit­ments? Is this not a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion?

Will we not lose out if the per­spec­tives that such peo­ple might of­fer are not ad­e­quately rep­re­sented? Why should our dis­courses and bod­ies of knowl­edge be mainly the pre­serve of young, sin­gle in­di­vid­u­als who have few com­mit­ments? Ob­vi­ously part of the so­lu­tion is to pro­vide more fam­ily-friendly in­fra­struc­ture; fam­ily-friendly ac­com­mo­da­tion near the univer­sity and sup­port groups so that stu­dents with fam­i­lies find it eas­ier to be part of the re­search com­mu­nity.

But in­fra­struc­ture alone does not ad­dress the root is­sue: that time, which most sin­gle stu­dents can de­vote to their re­search, is con­sumed by nec­es­sary fam­ily mat­ters among stu­dents caring for chil­dren. I favour in­sti­tut­ing a four-year PhD op­tion that is half­way be­tween full-time and part-time study. A Tier 4 visa can be is­sued for what­ever the in­sti­tu­tion of­fi­cially de­fines the length of a course to be. Fam­ily-friendly PhDs is an is­sue that de­serves dis­cus­sion – and ac­tion.

The OfS should en­sure that all stu­dents who have the po­ten­tial and de­sire to ben­e­fit from higher ed­u­ca­tion are prop­erly sup­ported to ful­fil their po­ten­tial

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.