Dependency, Doulia and Student Carers in Higher Education during C-19

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During the pandemic, many people have reported on intensification of existing pressures balancing work and other commitments, particularly balancing unpaid and paid work as home, office and educational routines and environments have radically changed. Students who are also carers have been particularly vulnerable to the impact of increased caring responsibilities on their ability to work and study while they study from home with little access to formal and informal forms of support. The research reported on here investigates how tertiary students who have caring responsibilities cope with university study during COVID-19. Recognising that dependency is a fundamental aspect of existence and using Kittay’s ethics of care as a fundamentally reciprocal concept, the aim of the research is two-fold: to investigate how the social shifts entailed in responding to the public health crisis of the pandemic impacted on student carers, and; to what extent the university and teaching staff have been able to care for student carers. As part of a pilot study, we surveyed students enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate subjects in sociology and gender studies at an Australian university to investigate how students with caring responsibilities managed the lock-down situation compared to those without—and how teaching staff were able to adjust the learning environment to support them. The data reveals that while the institutional responses of actors such as universities as well as adjustments made by individual staff members has to some extent normalised students as carers during such a time of crisis, these responses have not supported student carers to the same extent as other students. Our findings suggest that educational institutions such as Universities while formally committed to equity and inclusion, are not yet meeting the needs of student carers. Further, because individual staff members are unable to fully meet the needs of students as carers, an institutionalised response is required. With this paper, we seek international collaborators to investigate further how Kittay’s concept, ‘doulia’, as an anchor of reciprocity and caring obligations can further our thinking of how the modern university can support student carers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Care and Caring
Publication statusSubmitted - 2020


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