But you’ve done well, haven’t you? : an exploration of the educational and social experiences of lone parent students in higher education

Allison, Heather (2017) But you’ve done well, haven’t you? : an exploration of the educational and social experiences of lone parent students in higher education. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This study explores the educational and social experiences of 17 undergraduate lone parent students studying across a wide range of subject disciplines in a post-1992 inner-city university. The study was conducted in 2010 using qualitative, semi-structured, one-to-one interviews. At the time, the number of lone parent households was increasing and the political agenda aimed to reduce welfare dependency and increase lone parents’ employment rate. During this period, New Labour Government policy also emphasised the benefits of higher education and of opening up of opportunities for a new and diverse group of students who traditionally have not attended university, with lone parents among them.

Posited within a social justice framework, this study seeks to identify the factors that motivated lone parents to become higher education students and examine their perceived (re)constructed future identities.

The study draws on feminist theoretical perspectives on the intersectionalities of gender, class and ‘race’ and Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of habitus and economic, social and cultural capitals to examine how social backgrounds, educational history and the structures of the academe influence and shape the lived experiences of lone parent students.

The number of academic studies on the educational experiences of ‘non-traditional’ mature students has increased considerably, with parent students becoming a growing subject of interest for academic research. However, few studies have focused on lone parent students in higher education as a distinct group, let alone the differences among the lone parent students themselves. This study seeks to address this absence.

The key findings of the study reveal that the majority of the lone parent students were resisting the social stigma of their lone parent identity and had chosen to enter university to form new social networks, new identities and new futures. However, despite the lone parent students’ resilience, the structural demands of the academy (such as course timetables, assessment deadlines and subject requirements) together with the university culture presented considerable challenges to their ability to manage childcare, employment and study, as well as their changing habitus.

Allison-Heather_Thesis_Final_30.03.2017_update.pdf - Published Version

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