University parents: call for more financial support

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Media captionEmily found out she was pregnant with Daisy in her second year at university

There are calls for parents studying in Wales to have more financial support while at university.

The National Union of Students in Wales said it was "unacceptable" for those caring for others to be among those struggling the most to make ends meet.

The Welsh Government said improving access to higher education for parents was a "top priority".

Emily Hattersley found out she was pregnant aged 21 and at university, and gave birth to Daisy in April 2018.

The Cardiff University student said juggling financial struggles, sleepless nights and deadlines has been challenging for her and her partner, but she would not change it.

"It's the most amazing feeling in the world. Every single morning I wake up and I realise I've got a person that's half of me, that's funny, she's intelligent," she said.

"She makes us laugh every single day.

"My degree is a lot but the fact that I have a little girl as well - I'm so grateful."

The National Union of Students in Wales said students with children are being left "high and dry by a student finance system that is not geared up to support them".

"Parents who want to better themselves and their children's futures through higher education should not be penalised by their ambition," it added.

Emily is one of more than 6,000 undergraduates in Wales receiving parental support - but the exact number of student parents is unknown because, despite recommendations, universities are not required to record how many of their students have children.

Image caption Emily says being a parent to Daisy is "the most amazing feeling in the world"

Emily feels universities are difficult places to navigate as a parent.

"I get a lot of funny looks when I'm going into the student union. Yesterday we had to go for a meeting, and the people just look at you like 'oh you're in the wrong place'," she said.

"It does make me quite sad sometimes because I feel like I'm hiding a part of myself. And obviously I'm proud of her. I want to shout from the rooftops but I also feel like in uni I've got an image to present."

But the biggest challenge Emily faced was getting hold of parental support grants from Student Finance Wales to help with costs such as childcare - which alone cost her nearly £1,000 a month.

"You get a parental living allowance, a special support grant, and you also get money for day care which amounts to 80% of childcare costs," she added.

"But we didn't get ours sorted for such a long time it was awful... every time I rung them [Student Finance] they told me something different and I had a different form to fill out and I had to do this and I had to do that".

Emily said she ticked an incorrect box on the application form, which delayed the process.

She was able to get £1,000 from the university's hardship fund and help from family, and finally received her childcare support nine months after Daisy was born.

"I feel like if people didn't have the support that we had we would not be able to do it and if anything that would have made me withdraw from my studies, not being able to pay for it."

The company behind Student Finance Wales - the Student Loans Company - says it has a "dedicated team that process applications for childcare support" and awarded £2.7m to student parents in Wales in the 2017-18 academic year.

"Should an issue arise with an application, we immediately contact the customer to update the information they provided or request further evidence should we need it," a spokesperson said.

"Customers should come back to us as soon as possible to prevent any delays," a spokesman said.

The Welsh Government said it expected "systems to be in place for students to raise any problems or issues in accessing student support".

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