Nicola Foley has made great progress as Accessibility Officer but thinks she has more work to do as Parents and Carers Officer.
Foley is a Film and Media student, but as a full-time parent and carer, she is a part-time student, currently in year three of six.
She was Accessibility Officer this year but feels the university is in a good place now and wants to turn her attention to parents and carers. Foley, who is autistic and has ADHD, has also been a Faculty Rep, and has been shortlisted as Neurodiverse Undergraduate of the Year.
Parents and Carers Officer is a volunteer position that works alongside VP Education to represent students with parental or caring responsibilities, as well as running campaigns to improve their lives at university.
“I’m on a Facebook group for parents at the University of Stirling, and there are a lot of issues that come up repeatedly. Same for carers.”
“Hybrid learning during lockdown worked amazingly for people like me who have caring commitments. The fact that it’s no longer an option for most modules now is pretty devastating for a lot of parents and carers.”
Making lectures and learning sessions available simultaneously in person and online using Microsoft Teams so students can attend remotely from home alongside peers who are attending on campus is hybrid learning. It was common after lockdown had ended but has fallen out of favour.
“We got an award for carers, but I still don’t feel like [the university is] meeting the needs of parents or carers in the sense that classrooms are not very flexible. If something happened with my son I’d have to drive 25 miles home to sort that, then back again to lectures. There’s a lot that needs addressing.
“There has to be a way for people to participate even when they can’t always be on campus, and even if it’s just Listen Again, we have to make sure that’s always available, because it isn’t at the moment. It’s so important for anyone who might be interrupted and need to go back and review things.”
In 2021, the University of Stirling was awarded the Carers Trust Scotland Going Higher for Student Carers Recognition Award.
Foley believes that her experience working closely with the Union will help her get a running start as Parents and Carers officer.
“Everybody has been so amazing and inclusive, and it has really helped me learn how to communicate in these kinds of roles.”
When speaking with Brig, Nicky identified that she is spinning a lot of plates, but believes she is well-placed to balance everything.
“It’s what I’ve always done. It’s second nature to me. I also volunteer for Perth ADHD Group as a mentor for parents. I’ve learned this stuff, it’s second nature to me now. Learning new stuff, my studies, that’s hard. I can’t not do stuff when it needs doing.”
Awareness of Caring
One of the key things Foley wants to do is to help people come to terms with caring. “It takes on average two years for people to realise that they are caring for someone. For a lot of people it starts as ‘come on mum here’s your tablets before I go out’ and then becomes always making sure their phone is on ‘just in case’. People don’t realise that that’s caring!”
Nicky knows that just sending out emails won’t be enough and wants to work with the university and students to find a better way of identifying and supporting care-experienced students and parents.
When talking to Brig, she was keen to emphasise that she is a parent and a carer and that she understands personally the challenges faced by students with additional responsibilities. “Somebody understanding my position has been really helpful. Not feeling so alone helps. I can’t fix everything, but I can listen and understand. I also know lots of people and can often direct people to the best place to get the help they need.”
Summarising, Nicky says: “I care about people, and I will always do my best for them.”
Due to technical issues Nicola’s Manifesto is not currently available online but a link will be added here if this changes.
Voting opens on Tuesday, February 28 at 10am and closes on Thursday, March 2 at 5pm.
Featured Image Credit: Nicola Foley