Supporting students to realise their potential

The University has officially launched a new project outlining its commitment to further support estranged students.

Louise Banahene, Head of Educational Engagement, speaking during the event to officially adopt the StandAlone Pledge

Louise Banahene, Head of Educational Engagement, speaking during the event to officially adopt the StandAlone Pledge. October 2018

The StandAlone Pledge – signed by Professor Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education – was 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.

Speaking at the launch event, Professor Ward said: “Here at Leeds, we believe all students should have the opportunity to realise their potential, regardless of their background, and we recognise the particular challenges faced by estranged students. 

“The signing of the pledge is just the first step in our commitment to supporting estranged students. Later this month, I am due to meet with a group of estranged students to find out more about the particular challenges they face at Leeds and practical ways in which the University might support them.

“With your help, we can ensure all students dealing with issues of estrangement have the support they need to access and reach their potential at the University.”

Successful schemes

Leeds already has many successful schemes from which estranged students can benefit, including the Access to Leeds alternative admissions project, 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 £3,000 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.

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

New initiatives

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 during 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.

Louise Banahene, Head of Educational Engagement at Leeds, said: “I’d like to thank the services and teams who have worked with us so far in the development of the pledge, including Accommodation, Student Counselling and Wellbeing Service, the Lifelong Learning Centre, the International Office and both the Student Exec and the Advice team in LUU.

“This initial pledge, however, is only the start, and we're also keen to work closely in future with any teams, services, departments or faculties in supporting these students. One of our biggest challenges is identifying students studying without family support and making sure they are aware of the support we can offer. As students may disclose their circumstances to academics, personal tutors or support staff, one of the most important ways in which you and your colleagues can help us is by raising awareness of the support available and referring students.”

How you can help

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.”

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

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.

Biology student, Gerard Murphy, who has been supported in his studies at the University through assistance from schemes such as Access to Leeds, scholarships and the Plus Programme. October 2018Biology student, Gerard Murphy, who has been supported in his studies at the University through assistance from schemes such as Access to Leeds, scholarships and the Plus Programme

‘Making the most of my time at Leeds’

Biology student, Gerard Murphy, explains how schemes such as Access to Leeds, scholarships and the Plus Programme have helped him make the most of his time at Leeds, despite experiencing homelessness and having no family support:

He said: “I had a tough time coming to university. My household was unstable, to say the least, so I spent time in and out of care throughout my teens. 

“During my final year of sixth form, I was homeless. My school tried as much as it could to help but its hands were tied as I was several months away from being 18. This meant I couldn’t yet receive help from adult services and children services could only support me for a short time. However, my school was able to help me by making me aware of the Access to Leeds scheme, which was perfect for me as Leeds was my top choice. The scheme was very helpful and prepared me and two of my friends for university life.

“I was originally worried about starting university, but I quickly made friends on my course, in my accommodation and via my SPIN group – a mentoring programme run by the Plus Programme, where second-year students mentor first-years for one semester after they arrive by organising social activities.

“From the get-go, I really enjoyed my course. It was a lot more varied than I thought, which has allowed me to expand my horizons. I joined lots of extra-curricular societies, including sub-aqua, Duke of Edinburgh, yoga and the Zoology Society. I’ve been able to take part in so many societies and field courses, as I'm fortunate enough to be in receipt of a scholarship. The extra financial support has allowed me to pass barriers that would have otherwise prevented me from making the most out of my time here at Leeds.”

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