Best practice conference: 19 October 2016

"How do you fund bursaries for estranged students? Which budget does the summer accommodation bursary come from? Can we add a tick box to help identify estranged students to our enrolment form? How can we link up better with our wellbeing team?"

There is already much good practice in supporting estranged students in universities, and Stand Alone felt it was time to bring colleagues together to discuss specific examples, and share what more institutions can do to improve the existing framework.

Estranged students are those students who are studying without the support or approval of their family network, and consequently are alone at university. Our research has shown that such students are faced with considerable barriers to success whilst they try to complete their studies.

Professor Geoff Layer, VC of Wolverhampton University, expertly chaired the discussion panels throughout the day on four key areas of vulnerability for these students: Finance, Accommodation, Mental Health/Wellbeing and Outreach/Transition.

The room was buzzing with 52 delegates from 34 UK universities, sector organisations and charities. They all came together to hear from colleagues, and estranged students themselves, about what works best in helping students who do not have family to succeed in higher education.

DMU, LJMU and Kingston University gave informative presentations on the impact of bursary and guarantor schemes and how they identify estranged students for those bursaries. MMU spoke about its new and highly successful summer term bursary for estranged students: when introduced for the first time in 2016, it supported over 90 students last summer. The feedback showed how much it reduced stress and anxiety for estranged students who struggle over the summer months:

"Over summer, money is such a worry for me, and to be provided a bursary is such a relief. One of my main worries was finding the money for my accommodation deposit, but with this bursary I can finally rest and stop worrying."

The Unite Foundation touched a note with many in the room when stressing the importance of safe, year-round accommodation for those that do not have family support to encourage them or enable them to concentrate solely on their studies.

A frequently asked question in the room was regarding how HEIs reach estranged students pre-entry. Kingston University and CentrePoint, a homeless charity, gave an insight into how they all work together to help estranged young people living in hostels and foyers get into university successfully. 33% of all estranged students experienced homelessness before they entered university, and a joined up approach is crucial for bringing students with potential into support.

Of course, the best part of each panel was hearing from students themselves; how they experienced their journey to university and the support they received from individual colleagues - and still do, now they are busy with their courses. We will certainly be expanding the student voice element for our forthcoming conferences: there is no better way to find out the real impact family estrangement can have on students than from the students themselves.

The Stand Alone Pledge, which we launched on the same day, helps institutions to commit to estranged students, by giving a public commitment to improving policies and support for students studying without a family network.

It has been one month since our launch, and our list of champion institutions who are taking The Stand Alone Pledge in these early stages grows longer by the day, and we are confident that each institution will make a big difference to individual estranged students and the way each university understands and supports those without family support.

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