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September 8, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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Mummies and Education: Being a Mum at Vic

Housework is a repetitive and generally thankless task that is usually taken up by the woman of the household. Just like the burden of housework the difficult mix of children and academia should not be underestimated. Many women have their tertiary education truncated due the arrival of a newborn baby. Women with children are increasingly focusing on attaining a higher education. Research shows that many women with children end up dropping out as the juggle of family and academic life becomes too much. Salient Feature Writer Jenna Powell investigates what it is like to be a Mum at Victoria University. Does Victoria University as an institution help or hinder women bringing up children?

MUM and STUDENT

The act of breast feeding is socially defined and determined. This means that morals surrounding breast feeding are cultural and relative to the society at the time. Many people still see breastfeeding as a strictly private activity that should be confined to the home. This was seen when in 2003 an MP was asked to stop breastfeeding her newborn during a session of the Victorian Parliament in Australia. Mother and student Gina Campbell was surprised by the reaction of some people in the supposedly educated and tolerant environment of a university when she first breastfed her baby girl Amelia in the quad. “The Uni has spaces for this but I didn’t really know where they were.” Gina said there was “a few sniggers and some shocked faces.” Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to have your breast exposed to feed your child so objections to nudity are not entirely valid and even if they were “Like hello, it’s just a breast.”

“You lose contact with a lot of your peers,” Gina explained when asked what is the most tiresome thing about being a mother and a student. Several of Gina’s friends assumed she did not want contact with society after having a baby, which meant she did not enjoy a social group of friends in her second and third years of study. Australian research shows that women with young children below the age of four assume they will be unwelcome in an educational environment. VUWSA and the University have tried to combat this notion not only with childcare facilities but also a women’s room which is situated in the Student Union Building adjacent to the Salient office. “Mothers find the use of the phone and desk in there particularly useful,” Women’s Rights Officer Georgina Dickson. Georgina insists that although her job description does not cater for women with children specifically she “would provide advocacy wherever it was needed.”

Gina soon learned that Victoria University has six childcare facilities that cater for all ages and for all programmes of study. The centres are used by mothers between late teens and early forties. It has 153 spaces every hour over those six childcare centers. Victoria University Crèche General Manager Jean Sunko admits that the demand for the service is “about double” what is currently available. Sunko insists “we do try and accommodate everyone.” Gina Campbell believes the service is excellent but “the limited space and waiting lists do make things difficult.” The cost of the crèche’ is $5.50 an hour and although very cheap compared to commercial rates is still prohibitive to women in tertiary education. Gina admits that despite the cost and time she did feel slightly pressured to get back to school “as soon as possible” due to increasing educational demands of the labour market. There have been attempts to minimise the costs for parents studying with the ECE initiative which offers preschoolers 20 free hours of childcare and a Childcare Subsidy is available for those are eligible. Parents of the crèche’ can also claim a tax rebate for the costs of childcare.

If a parent is studying part-time (anything less than six papers a year) they are not entitled to the student allowance. Because most mothers will study part-time this means they are effectively denied the student allowance (or living costs as part of a student loan) despite the fact most will be on a low income with what government forms call a ‘dependent’ in tow.

MUM and ACADEMIC

Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Programme’s primary goal is that all people in New Zealand have equal employment opportunities and access to decent and productive work. Being a mother creates mitigating circumstances that employment generally does not cater for. Women have excelled in many areas of the workforce but the flexibility of those hours and access to reasonable childcare is extremely varied from each industry and employer. Women with children are expected to hold down a job (and many certainly want to) due to the need for a second (or in many cases sole) household income but are simultaneously excluded due to the supposed rules of the working day. Salient understands that Victoria University recently restricted the daily timeframe lecturers could be at university making it extremely inflexible for not only female lecturers with young children but male lecturers with young children and students who also happen to be parents.

Victoria University should be actively encouraging mothers and females in academic pursuits but the newly implemented restriction on hours does beg the question as to whether Victoria provides a hospitable environment for women with young children. Mothers in education have special educational requirements and they should be protected under the Education Act and their special educational difficulties should be catered for.

THE CLOSURE of the LAW CRECHE

Despite many parents fears of the law crèche closing down, Sunko is adamant it “it will never close down without something in its place.” Reliscencing and other red tape have made the outside area of the Law Crèche against policy as of February 2009. “Every childcare facility in New Zealand will be dealing with this relicensing says Sunko. The Law Crèche has been given a minimum of 18 months to sort out any issues that they find. The University has assured Salient and concerned parents that “facilities management is being really proactive about finding another space and getting funding together.”

VUWSA have also promised to support the parents of the uncertain law crèche wherever possible. The parents concern is highly valid given Victoria University’s current financial situation due to decreases in enrolments. “We are in the process of applying for funding from the Ministry of Education” Sunko assured Salient. In a letter to VUWSA the parents also expressed concern over the small size of the facility. One parent told Salient “There is just not enough room-it really is an inadequate facility.” Sunko hopes that the next Law Crèche will be a “more appropriate size” within the next few years.

THE DREADED CROSS ON THE PREGNANCY TEST

The elusive but highly feared cross on the pee stick is usually something dreaded by all students in the middle of their academic years. A child may prolong your studies but the facilities and advocacy is there for mothers to enable them to continue their education. There are still problems with the education and employment structure and until the men in suits can accommodate a mother’s needs in the workplace and classroom there will continue to be obstacles to overcome. However, you cannot help but find the facilities available to mothers on campus a little reassuring.

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Comments (3)

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  1. David says:

    I appreciated this story, as I read it I wondered whether there are parallels to Auckland uni and there definitely are. We have a Parentspace and a Parents officer, they are well used and every effective facilities.
    (http://web.ausa.auckland.ac.nz/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=7&id=36&Itemid=65)

  2. fabio says:

    Jenna rulz!

  3. Brunswick says:

    Kirsty Barlow’s illustrations are excellent. She should be given some colour work.

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