This year the University of Leeds has officially launched its StandAlone pledge
which outlines our commitment to supporting estranged students.
Estranged students are 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 the family’s wishes.
Estranged students 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
- a charity that supports estranged adults – has challenged all institutions to develop their support for such students to enable them to succeed in higher and further education.
Our work on the pledge began with auditing the support already available to estranged students. For example, the University of Leeds already has many successful schemes from which estranged students could also benefit including the Access to Leeds
alternative admissions scheme, scholarships and financial support, vacation activity schemes like ‘Christmas at Leeds’, and the Plus Programme
which offers support during the transition to university and while on course. We also have a dedicated contact for estranged students.
This process enabled us to identify areas where we could do more as part of our pledge. 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.
Other new initiatives have included:
working with our outreach teams to better communicate the support available to prospective students and their teachers;
developing webpages with dedicated advice for estranged students;
working to improve access to summer vacation grants; and
collaborating with our student union to raise awareness and to facilitate the emergence of a student-led network or support group.
Throughout the autumn term we’ve been working hard to raise awareness of the issue of estrangement among both staff and students. We’ve held staff briefings and drop-in sessions, had articles in both staff and student newsletters, distributed postcards across the university, and had an email signature campaign.
We’re already seeing results with significantly more students coming forward to access the support available and increasing numbers of enquiries and referrals from staff members too.
The pledge commitment also involved a group of estranged students meeting with Professor Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education to share their experiences and ideas for where more support could be offered. As a result we’ve already extended our pledge commitments to introduce support for graduation costs, agreed to fast-track the payment of scholarships to estranged students, and we’re working on providing extra assistance with both the logistics of moving to university and planning for life after university.
For the University of Leeds signing the pledge has been a catalyst for raising awareness of the challenges that university life can present for estranged students and bringing people together across the institution to create change.
GHWY is collaboratively working on encouraging all partner institutions to develop their Stand Alone pledges for the following academic year, incorporating the lessons learnt thus far.
Katherine Butler, Educational Engagement, University of Leeds