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The ‘Learning pathways for carers’ programme

Dr Nichola Kentzer, Dr Chris Kubiak and Prof Mary Larkin, The Open University


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Click to download the presentation The ‘Learning pathways for carers’ programme (.pptx)


Although widening access policies have led to greater prioritisation of students who are carers, they continue to experience considerable disadvantage in higher education (HE) (Carers Trust, 2018; National Union of Students, 2013).  Strategies to address their needs remain underdeveloped (Larkin & Kubiak, 2021). In addition, there is a need to better understand possible reasons for the under-representation of this population in HE (Runacres et al. 2021).

A body of work developed by The Open University’s (OU) Carer Research Group has led to significant insights into the experiences of the ever-increasing number of students in the OU who are carers. This research has sought to not only understand the experiences of carers as they study, but also to reduce the barriers faced by carers to enable their access to, and success in, HE. 

This seminar will consider the key findings from this work and discuss how these wider insights have underpinned an innovative project using OpenLearn, a free, unlimited resource that offers flexibility, choice, and carer specific learning opportunities. The project, carried out in partnership with a leading carers organisation in the UK - Carers Trust, aims to support wellbeing and an opportunity to upskill for employment and/or further study, including entry to OU courses. The way that this project.

This project started by creating learning journeys for carers in Tower Hamlets – one of the UK’s most diverse area. It has led to a unique ‘Learning pathways for carers’ programme which includes a ‘Learning Guide for carers’ and a ‘Facilitator Guide’ for carer centre staff to support carers to access and study through OpenLearn.  The programme will be demonstrated and the plans for the national roll out (supported by Carers Trust) and international roll out (starting with Carers New South Wales, Australia) outlined.  


Carers Trust, (2018) Supporting Students with Caring Responsibilities: Ideas and Practice for Universities to Help Student Carers Access and Succeed in Higher Education, London: Carers Trust.

Larkin, M. & Kubiak, C. (2021). Carers and Higher Education: Where next? Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 23, 130–151.

National Union of Students. (2013). Learning with care: Experiences of student carers in the UK [Online]. Available: [Accessed 17 September 2020].

Runacres, J., Herron, D., Buckless, K. & Worrall, S. (2021). Student carer experiences of higher education and support: a scoping review. International Journal of Inclusive Education, DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2021.1983880.


Nichola Kentzer

Dr Nichola Kentzer

Lecturer (WELS), The Open University

Dr Nichola Kentzer: has a background in sport psychology and education. She is a Health and Care Professions (HCPC) registered Practitioner Psychologist (Sport & Exercise) and has provided sport psychology support to athletes from club to elite level. Such was her passion for teaching and learning, Nichola chose to complete her doctoral studies in teacher education, specifically the mentoring of trainee teachers, and spent time leading a Cert Ed/PgCE qualification for untrained teachers working in schools.

Nichola has effectively combined these two areas of expertise to support her ongoing work which focuses on carer wellbeing.  Centring her work on the 5 ways of wellbeing, Nichola’s outputs have included published research, and an Open Learn course, on physical activity and carers, events on student carer wellbeing and co-ordinated activities to support staff who care. Ongoing projects centre on the development of evidence-based strategies to allow carers to access learning opportunities.


Chris Kubiak

Dr Chris Kubiak

Senior Lecturer (WELS), The Open University

Dr Chris Kubiak: originally training as a community psychologist in the 90s, Chris has researched community-based learning initiatives such as the National College of School Leadership’s Networked Learning Communities programme and subsequently, their Talk2Learn platform. He has researched and written extensively on learning communities, communities of practice, practice-based learning in care and informal learning journeys.

As an educational practitioner and until recently as the Associate Head of School, he has established several educational innovations including a foundation degree in health and social care, the ‘Transforming Care’ non-accredited courses project and a student mentoring programme.  His work with carers is concerned with research into their engagement in higher education and widening participation.


Mary Larkin

Prof Mary Larkin

Professor of Care, Carers and Caring, The Open University

Mary Larkin  - Professor of Care, Carers and Caring at the Open University (OU) -  has extensive experience of carer research. In addition to publishing widely, her expertise leads to her membership of national and international bodies, committees, and commissions. She is committed to maximising the potential of carer-related knowledge and evidence to inform policy, services and interventions to support carers. To this end she set up an international carers research network; co-founded the International Journal of Care and Caring, co-produced the Social Care Institute for Excellence ‘Carers’ hub’, and set up a Carer-related knowledge Exchange Network. Within the OU, she established the Care and Caring network @OU which spearheads institutional changes for student  and staff who are carers. In setting up and chairing the Open University’s Carer Research group she extended of the OU’s research portfolio. During Mary’s many years of teaching in higher education she has developed courses about, and for, carers.