The Office for Fair Access released a briefing in January that gave an overview of the current challenges faced by estranged students in higher education. Estranged students are studying without the support of a family network, and often have a critically dysfunctional and uncommunicative relationship with their family, but do not qualify for local authority support. At present, there is very little information reported in access agreements, but in response to the difficulties that estranged students can often face, OFFA will be placing greater emphasis on this topic in future access agreement guidance.
The New Starts report indicated that there are currently 9,338 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland officially recognised by Student Loan Company as ‘estranged’ in 2013-14. However, this does not include estranged students who have been estranged from their family for less than 12 months, those that have not had their estrangement approved by the SLC, and/or those who have not declared themselves as estranged – as may be the case with many mature estranged students. So in reality the total number of estranged students in reality may be much higher than initial reports suggest. Also, studies have shown that LGBT+ and BME students are more likely to experience estrangement
In 2008, NUS conducted research into the experiences of estranged students and Student Finance which led to drastic changes being made to the evidence required to be granted estranged status. Estranged Students are currently entitled to the maximum financial support from Student Finance and may be entitled to additional bursaries if they are available at their university or college. However, recent government changes and the abolishment of student maintenance grants will have a detrimental impact on students studying without the support of a family network and amplify the disproportionate financial difficulties estranged students face in comparison to their non-estranged peers.
Currently there is a severe lack of specific support services for estranged students studying at university and college and thus estranged students may not know about the availability of hardship funds and additional support when applying to study at these institutions. Estranged students in further education who have little to no financial support often have to work, sometimes full time, in order to support themselves financially in order to continue their studies and complete their course. As a direct consequences of this estranged students are more likely to experience poor mental health, experience higher dropout rates then their non-estranged peers and potentially homelessness during the summer holiday months. Additionally, estranged students often face struggle to find and/or afford accommodation that allows them to remain outside of term time which means they often end up ‘couch-surfing’.
It is clear from recent research that estranged students face unique barriers when accessing higher and further education and by creating support networks between these students can allow estranged students to support each other and thus improve their mental wellbeing and reduce dropout rates. This is why NUS LGBT+ will be joining up with Stand Alone to deliver a training day to help estranged students in March. The event training will be led by Becca Bland the CEO of Stand Alone and help to equip students with the skills and knowledge to help set up peer led networks in order to support each other and campaign for change within their home institutions.
If you would like to register for this event please click here