The Students Council of University of Latvia project nursery “LUstabiņa” aims to support current students with children and future students who faces obstacles to enter and stay in higher education because of raising child. Nursery works each work-day and provides students with possibility to leave their kids there while they are in lectures. Project is crucial for current students who cannot afford to pay for nursery and would most likely drop-out of university without this possibility.
Objectives of the Intervention
The main objective of this initiative is to increase access to higher education for students with children. This should lead to an increase adult learners' participation in higher education. The initiative aims on the one hand to support already enrolled students. On the other hand this initiative should make higher education more accessible for potential students with children who are currently facing obstacles to entering higher education.
Participants of this initiative are mainly students from a lower socio economic status background who are not able to afford a private nursery. If members of this vulnerable group of students are facing the challenge to integrate a child in their student life they usually drop out of their study programs.
“LUstabiņa” nursery is free of charge for the participants. At the moment the University of Latvia is the only higher education institution which is providing this kind of service.
Origins and rationale of this initiative
Students with children are one of the vulnerable groups within higher education, particularly in Latvia, where financial support is just provided for full time enrolled students. Students enrolled in part time study programmes are not eligible. This situation forces students with children either to drop out or to study full time and be dependent on affordable / free nursery opportunities or support through other family members.
The nursery program was initiated by the local student council to tackle the previously mentioned problem and there was a request from the side of the students to improve the situation. The nursery opportunity allows students and university staff to leave their children in good hands, while they can concentrate on their studying or work. The availability of the program is tailored to the student needs as lectures, seminars etc. are not taking place during the same time slots every day. The nursery is located in an area which is easily accessible for students from different faculties.
Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative
Target groups for this program are students with children, potential students with children and adult learners. Potential students are not targeted directly, though the existence of a nursery is expected to positively affect access to higher education. The program is also focussing on students from a low socio economic status background, as they might not be able to afford nursery or childcare otherwise. The geographical range of this program is rather limited as the program is just run for students and staff of the University of Latvia.
The project is implemented on various levels. Although the main target group are the students, university staff can use it as well. The impact of this program on local communities is currently not measured. However the program establishes indirectly new role models who challenge the traditional gender roles of Latvians – as women no longer stuck at home, but are able to participate in higher education.
Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative
The main initiator of the project is the students' council who operates the program with their own budget. No other political support is needed to carry out activities. However, a stronger awareness of the problems students and future students with children face while trying to enter higher education or to graduate is needed to change the situation fundamentally.
All stakeholders inside the university support this project. The faculty student councils support the nursery program. Though just one of 13 faculty councils has replicated the nursery opportunity for their faculty students. The motivation for a faculty student nursery program might be driven by the isolated location of this specific faculty and that this faculty has more adult learners with children in comparison with the other faculties.
As the mission of Students Council of University of Latvia is to represent interests of all students at the University of Latvia the project is conducted as part of the mission, therefore the key strategy behind the nursery project is to reflect the students needs, but also to prevent their potential drop out.
Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals
The initial idea started when some students promoted the possibility to make a nursery program at University of Latvia. The Students Council conducted research on the need for a nursery program and drop out rates relate to a missing childcare opportunity. There are several positions within the Executive Committee of Student Council of University of Latvia. One of them is the Social Affairs Officer and the nursery project was added as responsibility of this officer. The Social Affairs Officer is now managing this project. The Students Council included the project costs in their annual budget.
In the beginning there was just a simple room found in the University in order to provide the nursery opportunity. Later the program was re-located according to the needs of children, safety requirements etc.
In the beginning of the program all students have been informed via social networks, their e-mails and group leaders about the nursery possibility. To equip the nursery project adequately the student councils organized donations to buy toys and games for the kids.
As the project is on going and the target group are students with children there are no final outcomes. However, the nursery is used frequently and this shows that the program matches the student needs.
The project as described here was never before implemented in Latvia, therefore no opportunities for consultation were given.
Describe if the project ensured its sustainability
One of the main reasons why the project was stopped from 2012 to 2014, was a lack of continuity of policies and priorities of the students council. The student representatives change very often and continuity is one of the major issues when it comes to sustainability. Therefore there are risks if the main manager of this initiative is a students’ council. It was re-started because there was demand from students and the current executive committee is more sensitive towards social issues.
The project was twice replicated, one time at a faculty level and the Riga Technical University implemented a similar opportunity. Differences between the technical university program and the university of Riga are that students are charged for the nursery and that there is no social equality aspect behind.
Resources used in the initiative
The annual budget for initiative is 2,200 Euro and it is 100% funded by the Student Council of University of Latvia. The University of Latvia has expressed their interest in co-funding the project and perhaps in near future the budget for the project will be bigger. The project management does not cause any additional costs as the officer is paid by the student council anyway. The same is true for the facilities as the university is offering them free of charge. Most of the budget is spent on wages of baby-minders.
Periodically there are student volunteers who help to keep the facilities up to date and also help to raise donations. Time provided by volunteers is not measured and therefore cannot be quantified.
Members of the Students Council perceive the investment positively. However, when the nursery opportunity was created the budget was bigger than it is now after its re-introduction.
Did the intervention reach its objectives?
According to feedback provided by the participating students the program is satisfying. Also the frequent use of the program can be seen as an indicator for success.
The student council is planning to conduct an evaluation on the impact of the nursery program in the nearest future. However there has been no systematic evaluation done.
In the near future the Students Council plans to enlarge their communication network to approach more students. To achieve a better communication network e.g. data from the student services regarding maternity leave will be included.