Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Stand Alone Pledge: helping estranged students in higher education

Starting university is an adventure, but it can also be a bit daunting for many new students. Will I fit in? Will I make new friends quickly? Will I enjoy my course? What if I can’t cope? These are the kind of questions going through new students’ minds.

Luckily, 90% of students have the back-up of a close family when going to university. Parents help their children settle in to the new environment and make sense of the new challenges ahead, and, if possible, help financially, and just as importantly, emotionally. Stand Alone’s most recent research, ‘Family Matters’, identified the importance of emotional support from their family to students throughout their time in higher education, especially during stressful times.

But there are students who are going to university independently, without the support of their family, or a corporate parent. Either because they have chosen higher education against the will of their parents, or because they have decided to break away from a negative family relationship.

These estranged students rely solely on themselves to handle the start of university, and all the issues that studying brings with it, such as finding appropriate accommodation, often following a period of homelessness, making new friends and fitting in, while fearing the stigma of ‘estrangement’, and juggling academic work and jobs to make ends meet financially.

Stand Alone found that not having a supportive family can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and students feel more stressed and under pressure while completing their studies alone, and relying solely on their own initiative and resources.

‘I don’t have a ‘safety net’ if something goes wrong with studies/work, and I can never really just take a break. I think that makes me more anxious about the future, and generally more stress-prone.’ (Sheffield student)

Luckily, higher education providers are beginning to recognise the needs of estranged students. Many are now offering support, both with the transition to university/college, and during the course. Some student unions/student associations are working to engage with estranged students across their providers, to give them their own voice and a sense of belonging.

‘When I first began my studies, support at university was not visible, and felt non-existent. There was no awareness of estrangement from key support staff. Support has developed an awful lot over the past 12 months, and I now feel less invisible, and more valued. There is a designated member of staff who helps students living with estrangement’. (Salford student)

48 higher education providers have taken the Stand Alone Pledge since its launch in October 2016. The Pledge is a commitment to developing better support for estranged students – not only to help these students achieve, but also to feel part of their university: www.thestandalonepledge.org.uk.

And there is much to celebrate – provider support includes identification on enrolment and the offer of support on entry, deposit waivers and guarantor schemes, summer bursaries, bursary schemes, and priority access to hardship funds, graduation support, mental health support through university counselling departments, mentoring, and peer support.

‘At the start of my degree, I was working just as hard in my job to support myself, but the financial support I now receive has allowed me to reduce my hours, and really focus more on my studies, and hopefully get my grades up a little higher’. (Sunderland student)

But this is only a start. There are huge variances across the HE sector of the type of support available to estranged students at their higher education provider, and most estranged students don’t know they could access help, even it if is available – support needs to be communicated proactively by providers. Furthermore, estranged young people, without family support, often struggle to prove they have no family when accessing maintenance and fee loans.

All universities/colleges could benefit from looking at their policies which support other vulnerable, ‘at risk’ groups, such as care-experienced or care leaver students, and extend them to include estranged students. And why not link up with your student union/student association this November during Stand Alone’s Estranged Students Solidarity Week 2018, to raise awareness of studying without family support, and to engage with estranged students to find out what they need?
Use the hashtag, #withestrangedstudents on Twitter, and visit our website for more info.

All students, including those without a close and supportive family, want to get a good degree, celebrate their achievement, and ultimately progress into successful careers. But they also want to take part in student life. This shouldn’t be rocket science – higher education understands the need to support other groups of vulnerable students, so why not those without family support?
Further information


Contact us on contact@standalone.org.uk and @StandAloneHE.

1 comment:

adam standall said...

really supportive blog for estranged students and i really admire your work that you are doing.

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