Pledge to support students studying without family support

The University will officially launch a new project later this month outlining its commitment to further support estranged students.

StandAlone Pledge logo. October 2018

The StandAlone pledge – signed by Professor Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education – will be formally adopted on Wednesday 17 October.

StandAlone – a charity that supports estranged adults – has challenged all universities to develop their support for students facing such hardships, enabling them to succeed in higher education. 

Estranged students are those studying without the support or approval of a family network. Estrangement can be caused by a wide range of issues, from abuse, honour-based violence or forced marriage, to clashes in religious or political beliefs, LGBT+ issues or even just attending university against their family’s wishes.

They face particular challenges in accessing student finance, lack traditional support networks and are at high risk of homelessness, especially during vacations or as they finish their course.

StandAlone estimates there could be about 70 estranged students currently studying at Leeds.

Professor Ward said: “The University recognises the particular challenges faced by estranged students studying without the support of a family network. 

“Developing our pledge has presented an opportunity to audit the wide-ranging support already available for estranged students, as well as identifying areas for further development. The University welcomes the opportunity that this pledge offers to ensure estranged students are fully supported during their studies and looks forward to working with StandAlone.”

Leeds already has many successful schemes from which estranged students can benefit, including the Access to Leeds alternative admissions scheme, which has helped more than 4,000 students from disadvantaged backgrounds study at the University. 

Estranged students with low household income are eligible for Leeds Financial Support, which can be received as a cash bursary or as a discount on fees or University accommodation. They are also a target group for scholarships (currently up to £2,000 per year for three years), receiving weighted scores in the selection criteria.

Support continues for these students throughout their course via the Plus Programme, providing opportunities to learn new skills, develop networks with potential employers and gain a taste of the world of work or further study.

The University also runs activities for students staying in Leeds during Christmas and outside of term time, including estranged students.

But the University has also identified areas where it could do more, and signing the pledge is a major part of that project.

One key development has been the creation of a package of accommodation support for estranged students, which includes a guaranteed place in University residences for 365 days a year, as well as a waiver of the security deposit until their student loan is received.

They can also apply to the Hardship Fund during their studies, the criteria for which are being reviewed to ensure all estranged students are eligible to apply for support for the summer vacation.

Other new initiatives include:

  • communicating the support available to prospective students and their teachers
  • developing webpages with dedicated advice for estranged students; and
  • collaboration with LUU to facilitate the emergence of a student-led network or support group.

The University also welcomes other ideas for further ways to support estranged students.

A key part of its pledge is raising awareness of the issue of estrangement among staff and students. All staff are encouraged to be mindful of those who may be studying without family support, to be aware of the support on offer at Leeds and to remember that students dealing with issues of estrangement can be referred to Lisa Firth, the University’s dedicated contact for estranged students.

Lisa said: “It’s important students are referred to me as I can provide extra pastoral support, put them in touch with additional University services and facilitate referral to the Student Counselling Service.  

“I can also help with providing additional information and evidence to Student Finance England if students are struggling to be assessed as independent.”

Staff are invited to attend a lunchtime briefing between 12.30 and 1.30pm on Thursday 25 October to find out more about the pledge. Contact Helen Darley to register to attend.

View the full pledge for further information.

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