Supporting estranged students in higher education

stand-aloneSusan Mueller (Project Director, Stand Alone) writes about how estranged students need need recognition and more help to succeed in higher education. Stand Alone is a charity supporting people that are estranged from their families, working to raise awareness and break down the stigma of estrangement.

“We need support and we need to know it is there for us” – estranged students in higher education tell us they need recognition and more help to succeed.

At Stand Alone, we know that estranged students are studying at higher education institutions without any financial or emotional support from their families. More often than not they are struggling with the after-effects of leaving behind a destructive, dysfunctional family situation.

Research from the University of Cambridge indicates that abuse, and particularly emotional abuse, is a key cause of family estrangement, alongside clashes of values and beliefs and mismatched expectations about family roles. More specifically, issues connected to honour-based violence, forced marriage and family rejection of LGBTQI+ and transgender students are common. There are also a proportion of estranged students who have been disowned for pursuing education against the wishes of their family or extended family network.

Unlike care leavers, who remain the responsibility of their corporate parent while in education until the age of 25, Stand Alone’s research shows that there is a lack of any kind of social service intervention in roughly 60% of estranged student cases. Although around 19% have experienced care as a looked after child, they do not formally meet their local authority’s qualifying criteria as a statutory care leaver.

Across governments and in secondary and tertiary education there is an awareness of the needs of looked after children / care leavers: there are education policies and institutional policies, cross-governmental strategies, entitlements, responsibilities and covenants all aimed at improving the life and educational success of those in and leaving care.

Estranged students don’t have that kind of support or recognition. Across the higher education sector progress has been made – recognition by OFFA, SPA, UCAS, SLC, SFC and individual universities and other sector organisations across the UK. Nevertheless, many students tell us they feel unacknowledged and invisible. And they often do not feel confident to ask for help from their higher education institutions out of fear of being judged and blamed for their family situation.

What would they like to see change?

“Sometimes it is just enough to be listened to and believed.”

“When thinking about and when applying to higher education it would be really great to know that there is support available for us.”

“The cap of six counselling sessions makes you need to save up sessions for when you think you may need it most – such as exam time.”

Students have emphasised the importance and need for IAG specifically for estranged students pre-entry. The new tick box on the UCAS application from 2018/19 intake will provide a hook for university outreach in raising awareness with staff and teachers in schools and colleges who are supporting students with their application. But the stigma around estrangement is so great, students need reassurance that disclosure won’t have a negative effect.

Whether or not there is support for estranged students can influence their choice of university. Having a designated member of staff is vital to estranged students in helping them access the support they need pre-entry and throughout their course. Some say they wished they had known more about budgeting, money management and navigating student finance in relation to estrangement, as well as the ins and outs of independent living at university. They also wished they had known more about what mental health services they could access at university, like counselling or further therapy referral.

Taking the Stand Alone Pledge and so committing to on-course support and pre-entry IAG sends out a clear and visible message to students, staff and the sector as a whole that your institution recognises the needs of this cohort of students. It also signposts to students that your institution is willing to support estranged students aspiring to university-level education and to help them achieve their degree without the support of a family behind them.

Leading with knowledge

Bulletin-spring-2017-coverThis year AMOSSHE has been working with Student Services leaders in UK higher education to understand our sector, and use that understanding to develop our strategy for supporting and enabling our members.

Our spring bulletin introduces the themes that AMOSSHE will use to enable our organisational strategy, developed from member feedback. Also, the bulletin includes key headlines from the AMOSSHE Student Services benchmarking survey 2016/17, which gives a snapshot of the scale, scope, challenges and opportunities of UK Student Services in this academic year.

And there’s more! Get an overview of our professional development work so far this year, and find out about our forthcoming exchange visit from Student Affairs professionals from the USA.

Read the bulletin online here: Spring bulletin 2017.

Inspiring stories at 360 degree thinking

The AMOSSHE national conference 360 degree thinking: leadership / collaboration / innovation is all set to be an inspiring showcase for how Student Services leaders can really make a difference. Our keynote speakers Wes Streeting MP and Ben Smith are joining us to share their insights into how one person can make a huge impact.

Wes-StreetingWes Streeting was elected as the Labour MP for Ilford North at the 2015 general election. Having grown up on a council estate to become the first person in his family to go to university, Wes is passionate about improving access to education. He has worked on an anti-bullying campaign with schools across Britain, and run a national charity to support people from under-privileged backgrounds to get to university. Wes is a former President of the National Union of Students. Wes joins us at 360 degree thinking on Thursday 6 July.

Ben-SmithIn 2015 Ben Smith ran 401 marathons in 401 days around the UK to raise £250,000 for Kidscape and Stonewall, charities dedicated to tackling bullying in our society. Ben challenged himself to run the same distance as from London to Sydney to overcome the mental health issues, homophobia and bullying he had experienced in his life. His achievement has inspired others to do things they never thought were possible. Ben and The 401 Challenge team have received awards for this inspiring project, including the Regional and National Pride of Britain Fundraiser of the Year Award 2016, the Power of Light Award 2016 from the Cabinet Office and Prime Minister Theresa May, and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award 2016. Ben joins us at 360 degree thinking on Friday 7 July.

Wes and Ben, along with our other keynote speakers Nicola Dandridge and Lee Elliot Major, will enhance our programme of AMOSSHE member- and sector-led sessions exploring all angles to drive student success – encompassing inspiring leadership, effective collaboration and innovative practice. Find out more about the conference programme: 360 degree thinking: leadership / collaboration / innovation.

360 degree thinking takes place from 5 to 7 July 2017 at the Hilton Brighton Metropole, UK. This event is the key annual professional development and networking opportunity for UK Student Services leaders, so don’t miss the opportunity to be there! Booking closes next week – Wednesday 26 April.

Book your place here: 360 degree thinking.