Students with caring responsibilities

Are you a student carer? 

At Heriot-Watt we use the definition of carer developed by the Carers Trust, which is: 

'A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support.' 

Please note this definition does not apply where a student has a work placement or paid employment as a carer. 

Going Higher for Student Carers 

The University received the Going Higher for Student Carers Recognition Award in March 2020 from Carers Trust Scotland. The award recognises our commitment and success in how we identify, support, and celebrate our students with caring responsibilities from the pre-enrolment stages of their student journey all the way to graduation.  

Disclosing you are a student carer

Heriot-Watt is committed to giving access and opportunities to student carers and we recognise carers as one of our widening participation (WP) student groups.  By telling us you are a student carer we can provide access to a range of advice, guidance and support to help you succeed at university.  Please be reassured that any information you tell us will be dealt with confidentially. 

You can let us know you are a carer during the application stage by ticking the box on your UCAS application, emailing, by ticking the box during your enrolment or at any point during your studies by emailing   

Caring responsibilities may change over time with the demands on carers increasing, diminishing or ending. We will ensure that you have the opportunity to discuss any changes in your caring responsibilities and what support you might need as a result. 

Evidence of caring responsibilities

We recognise the diversity of caring responsibilities and situations and, therefore, a variety of supporting documentation may be accepted as confirmation of carer status. The following supporting documentation may normally be regarded as acceptable confirmation of the student’s status as a carer: 

  • A doctor’s letter confirming the responsibility of caring for a close friend, relative or neighbour and any perceived impact on the student. (All campuses) 
  • A local authority carers’ assessment (Scottish campuses) 
  • A voluntary organisation assessment (All campuses) 
  • A Young Carers Statement as per the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 (Scottish campuses) 
  • A Young Carers Authorisation Card/Carers Authorisation Card (Scottish campuses). 
  • A letter from a local carers centre or young carers project. (All campuses) 
  • Receipt of Carers Allowance (part-time students only) (Scottish campuses). 
  • Any other reasonable evidence (All campuses). 

The University may request further information or evidence to confirm caring status or any changes to the student carer’s responsibility. 

Carers may choose not to disclose this information at the admissions or enrolment stage, or their caring responsibilities may lead them to disclose this information at a later stage. This could be due to the carers taking on new caring responsibilities while at university or existing caring responsibilities may require a greater commitment of time and effort. It is the responsibility of the carers to provide appropriate confirmation of their carer status in good time where possible. 

How can we support you? 

If you are thinking about coming to university find out how we can help you

Advice and support from your dedicated point of contact

We offer a named point of contact to support you throughout your time at university: 

Edinburgh campus 
Emma Smail, Student Wellbeing and Transition Advisor,

Scottish Borders campus 
Gillian McLaughlin, Student Wellbeing Advisor,

Additionally, our Student Success Advisors can provide advice from a recent graduate perspective on all aspects of student life:   

Edinburgh Campus: 

Scottish Borders Campus: 

Every student has a member of academic staff allocated to them as a personal tutor who will be a key source of advice, guidance and support during your time at Heriot-Watt. 

Financial support

Heriot-Watt Access Bursary

Prior to starting their studies with us, undergraduate students can apply for the Heriot-Watt Access Bursary which, if successful, provides extra financial support to help students from widening participation backgrounds with living costs.

Heriot-Watt Expenses Bursary

The Heriot-Watt Expenses Bursary offers eligible undergraduate students up to £525 to help cover the cost of attending university. This could be to purchase a laptop, pay for WiFi access or travel expenses.

Hardship Funds 

Students carers are given priority access to hardship and emergency funding from the Student Union Advice Hub if needed.

A Student Guide to Financial Support at Heriot-Watt

Preparing for university

Get Ready for Success 

Student carers are encouraged to participate in Get Ready for Success, a three day event that takes place prior to Welcome Week which helps participants prepare for starting at Heriot-Watt. 

Pre-Entry Support Meeting 

New students will be invited to a one-to-one meeting with their named point of contact over summer to help ensure you have all the information and support you will need while studying with us.  

If you feel that you should have been contacted to arrange a meeting and haven’t received any communication, you can reach out to  

Ask a Student Success Advisor 

Ask a Student Success Advisor is a one-to-one email based support service available to students who have either an Unconditional Firm (UF) or Conditional Firm (CF) offer of a place at Heriot-Watt. It is an opportunity to ask a Student Success Advisor by email any questions you may have before beginning University. 

Health and wellbeing

Student Wellbeing Services aim to provide a range of support, guidance and activities and advice to help students be their best and get the most out of their University experience.  

Safety and Security  

Safeguarding Services and support is available 24/7 on campus, and students have access to our SafeZone app. We also have an on-campus Residence Life team who provide activities and support to help ensure you feel welcome and settled if you are staying in halls of residence. 

The Active Student Programme  

This programme is designed to support you back into exercising or to start exercising in the gym with an aim to improve your mental health and wellbeing. Places are limited and require a referral from a member of the wellbeing team. The active student programme is a 12 week programme. 

If you are referred you are given a free 12 week Oriam membership. You also receive an initial consultation, followed by a 6 week review and then a 12 week review. You are supported to set some long (12 week) and short (6 week) goals. If you are interested in finding out more, please email: 

Emma Smail, Student Wellbeing and Transition Officer (Edinburgh Campus) 

Gillian McLaughlin, Student Wellbeing Advisor (Scottish Borders Campus). 


Sometimes your caring responsibilities may affect study, such as missing classes or deadlines. We offer support to help manage this, but in some instances (where absences are likely to be frequent or prolonged), there may be the option of taking a temporary break from study, called a Temporary Suspension of Studies

Mitigating circumstances

Mitigating circumstances apply when a student is unable to complete an exam or piece of coursework, or not be able to do as well in an assessment as they otherwise might have. Ongoing caring responsibilities can mean that mitigating circumstances would apply on occasions to student carers. We would endeavour to ensure that student carers were not disadvantaged in assessments due to their caring responsibilities. 

The Heriot-Watt Parents and Carers Circle

Students at Edinburgh campus who are carers and/or parents are welcome to join the Parents and Carers Circle which helps keep members aware of sources of help and advice. You do not have to be registered as a carer to join. If you are happy to be included, contact Ailie at introduce yourself and she will get back to you.  Every semester they have a small get-together with refreshments on offer. Being part of the circle also means you will get occasional emails from the Advice Hub alerting you on University processes such as Mitigating Circumstances, Academic appeals and a range of potentially relevant information. 

You can also choose to be part of the closed Parents and Carers Facebook Group where you can take part in discussion threads and make contact with other students. 

Students with parental responsibilities

Ordinarily, the definition of student carers (above) does not include parents and carers of children, the exception being where a child has particular care needs resulting from a disability. Parents may be eligible for support through the Childcare Fund. Similar to support in place for carers, parents are given appropriate consideration for Mitigating Circumstances requests and absences. 

External resources

Carers Trust Scotland - Carers Trust is the largest provider of comprehensive carers support services in Scotland. They work to improve support, services and recognition for anyone living with the challenges of caring, unpaid, for a family member or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems. 

Edinburgh Young Carers - Edinburgh Young Carers is a voluntary organisation that provides respite and support to young people between the ages of 5 and 25 who care for somebody at home. 

Vocal - VOCAL supports and empowers unpaid carers in Edinburgh and Midlothian through individual support, information, training and access to services. 

Capital Carers - Capital Carers offers a wide range of support and services to unpaid carers of all ages from North West Edinburgh. Their Young Adult Carers Service provides emotional support, opportunities for personal development, and peer support, as well as short break provision.