Helping student Moms and Dads

Changing diapers and going to prenatal classes isn’t part of student life, right? Well, there are more student parents than you think. However, they can't count on support from the University.

 ‘A baby is a 24-hour job’, says Isabela Wojtowicz, 28 and doing her master’s in International Economics and Business. The German student has a one-year-old daughter.

Unfortunately, Isabela experienced first-hand that having a baby and writing a master’s thesis is not an ideal combination. While she was determined to write her thesis, after a parental leave of one semester, she ran into problems that she hadn’t anticipated.

Totally shocked

About two weeks into the new semester, Isabela got an urgent email from the department’s secretary to contact her thesis supervisor immediately or there would be consequences. ‘I was totally shocked and told her that I don’t have a supervisor yet. I had no clue what she was talking about – I didn’t know what was going on.’

The administration had forgotten about her. Since Isabela had already finished a statistics course – which is mandatory for the master’s thesis – before her parental leave, she wasn’t enrolled in a new course  where all of the information about research topics and supervisor assignments was posted.

Six weeks behind other students

When Isabela finally met with her supervisor, she was already six weeks behind the other students writing their theses. Although her supervisors were sympathetic and adjusted the deadlines for her, the final deadline was set in stone.

‘They said that they understood the problem, but that they couldn’t extend it’, Isabela says. ‘It’s nice that my supervisors adapted my deadlines, but that doesn’t help me if, in the end, I have less time to write my thesis than others because of administrative problems.’

Final deadline

Isabela felt like there wasn’t enough support. ‘Of course I understand that you have to be responsible for yourself as a student, especially as a master’s student. I wouldn’t say that it is only the university’s fault, but I cannot understand that they can’t do anything about the final deadline.’

In general, Isabela thinks that the University’s support for student parents could be improved. ‘It’s a pity. I mean, if you look at it statistically, then highly educated people already have fewer children. Demographically, this is a problem, and I think there should be possibilities to better facilitate this.’

Teachers were really supportive

Unlike Isabela, Savannah Lobbe, who is 23 and has a three-month-old daughter, didn’t experience any problems with her studies. But she didn’t get any support from the university, either. For her, it wasn’t clear what a student should do once they find out that they will be having a baby.

‘The teachers were really supportive’, Savannah says. ‘I had no problems with extending deadlines or asking for help. In that sense, they were really helpful with planning. But the University itself, I’m not sure. I didn’t receive any help from them. I don’t even know if they know about it.’

Husband stays home

At the moment, Savannah is able to work toward finishing her bachelor in American Studies – but only because her husband stays at home and takes care of the baby. ‘If he was working fulltime, it wouldn’t be possible. She just needs so much attention.’

Savannah thinks that recognition by the University that this is something that affects some students would be nice. ‘Maybe even just saying, ‘Congratulations that you have had a child, we hope everything is going alright.’ Or maybe something like, ‘If you need anything, you can contact this person.’ There are student advisors, but maybe somebody specific who deals with that would help.’

You have to communicate if you need help

Rian Katoen, 25, will become a father for the second time soon, but he doesn’t see any reason why the University should support student parents. ‘From the university itself, I didn’t get any help – but I didn’t ask for it. I don’t think it’s necessary because they are there for your education and, well, they’re not your parents, right? It’s your own responsibility.’

Rian’s first child was born while he was still finishing his propaedeutic first year phase, and he says he also got support from his teachers. ‘They were lenient. Professors made an exemption for me, but you have to communicate’ if you need that help.

For him, the University didn’t support him as such, but he wasn’t hindered, either. ‘They do give you room to do your own thing. That’s what I experienced, at least.’

Day care would be nice

As for support that the University could offer, Rian thinks that providing day care would be a nice addition. ‘But there is no social obligation to do that. If it was there, I guess I would use it. But it shouldn’t be obligatory.’

As an Econometrics student, he thinks the University could benefit the University’s marketing if that was something that they offered. Still, he also understands the costs involved and is sceptical whether or not there would be any return for such support.

Whether or not they felt supported , all three parents are one hundred percent certain that having a baby as a student was the right decision. Of course it’s tough, but they are all determined to finish their studies. As Rian puts it, ‘If I wouldn’t have had my daughter, I probably wouldn’t have finished my study. It helped me to finally really study – to get my shit together.’

Pregnant and still studying

Are you expecting a child before finishing your studies? Here is what the study advisor of the Faculty of Economics and Business advises you to do:

* Contact your study advisor first. He or she will discuss the situation with you and point out the options that you have. Because pregnancy falls under personal circumstances (just like illness or other family issues), the same procedures apply.

* This means that you might be eligible for financial compensation. If your studies are delayed as a result, you might have to adjust your schedule and, in the case of your BSA, you have to mention any exceptions to those standards.

* In addition to the study advisors, the University also has student counsellors at the Student Service Centre who can provide further advice and guidance.