Inside Track – Professor Tom Ward: experiencing University as an estranged student

Studying without the support and approval of a family network can be difficult, but there are good reasons to be proud of what we’re doing for estranged students at Leeds.

A profile picture of Professor Tom Ward. January 2020

The University of Leeds is deeply committed to enabling different groups of students to engage successfully with the research-based educational environment we provide.

In this note I would like to discuss a specific group of students, to highlight some of the barriers they face.

For many of our students, supportive parents are on hand at many key moments. A car to help move house, a place to store belongings outside term time, a supportive phone call when things are difficult, congratulations when something goes well, certainty about where you’ll be spending Christmas, a place to stay between graduation and the next step in their journey. For some of our students, all those moments and many others beside feel very different.

We have just celebrated the first anniversary of making the StandAlone Pledge, expressing institutional commitment to estranged students. Estranged students are young people studying at university without the support and approval of a family network. Students in this position often have no contact with their family, and may have removed themselves from an abusive family environment.

The Student Loans Company recognises the special challenges estranged students face, and provide one small piece of the big jigsaw puzzle of what is needed to enable students to achieve their potential. At Leeds the Plus Programme provides support to several groups of students, including estranged ones. The number of estranged students is modest, but for each of them the challenges they face are formidable.

The StandAlone Pledge includes some essential practical things. Estranged students are eligible for Leeds Financial Support, means-tested scholarships, and access to the Hardship funds. We make an offer of year-round university accommodation and waive up-front deposits for university accommodation until loans have arrived. We ensure there is signposting to wellbeing services and arrange social activities both in term time and out of term time. We also arrange one-to-one support from a dedicated member of staff and support through the Plus Programme.

There are good reasons to be proud of what we are doing for estranged students, but we are still learning about their experiences and the obstacles they face. Getting to know some of our estranged students has been a real privilege, and I know that everyone who works here shares my eagerness to enable them to enjoy their time here and have every opportunity to succeed.

So what can you do?

  • Learning about the experiences of estranged students and discussing how your school, division, or unit might accommodate them better is useful – and, as usual, thinking about the barriers one group of students might face often makes life better for other students. 
  • Raising awareness of the pledge and the issues behind it will promote useful conversations.

Please contact the team if you want to find out more or if you want to explore other ways in which you could help. 

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