Review to help lone parents get back into education
Almost one-in-five third-level students has children, a new study has found.
The statistic is revealed in an independent review which will be used to inform policy decisions on what supports should be offered to students.
Education Minister Richard Bruton commissioned the report to look at access to higher education by lone parents.
However, it has emerged no such data exists as parental status is not routinely collated by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) or the Department of Education.
But the report, which will be launched today, has established that 17pc of undergraduates are 'student parents'. This included lone parents and two-parent families.
The number of students with children is greatest among the mature student cohort (41pc) and drops to just 2pc among those under 23. Of those, 44pc are engaged in part-time education, 26pc in distance learning and 10.5pc in full-time courses.
The review said research has consistently identified loan parents as a group at higher risk of social exclusion, financial exclusion and economic vulnerability.
A high proportion of lone parents have low levels of education, but there is "a willingness" to take on courses, particularly as their children become older.
At today's launch of the report, Mr Bruton is expected to say there are clear returns to investing in higher education levels for lone parents, including reducing poverty and deprivation rates among adults and children.
During the compilation of the report a number of lone parents were asked their motivation for returning to education.
The authors said participants pointed to "positive effects of increasing parental levels of education on the aspirations, expectations and cultural capital acquisition of their children".
However, the Department of Education has been warned lone parents are often not targeted as a group with specific needs, but are catered for through generic supports for under-represented groups.
Some higher education facilities do offer financial assistance and childcare supports, but a review of international best practice suggests scholarships and enhanced academic supports should be promoted.
The review said there is limited support available for part-time study, which is often better suited to lone parents, compared to full-time courses.
The report acknowledged policy relating to one-parent families is under reform.
However, it added this reform is taking place against a backdrop of potential policy changes regarding how higher education is funded.
"In the context of proposals for the introduction of a student-loan scheme, the review indicates that lone parents are one of the groups most susceptible to high levels of debt," a source said.
Meanwhile, a series of new initiatives aimed at widening access to education will also be launched today.
Among the groups being targeted are communities facing socio-economic problems, entrants with disabilities, mature entrants, members of the Irish Traveller community and lone parents.
Mr Bruton will announce funding bursaries worth €5,000 for 600 students coming from non-traditional backgrounds into college.
A further €3m has been allocated over three years in increased funding for the hardship supports.
Mr Bruton said: "Education has a unique capacity to break down the cycles of disadvantage."