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​The Stand Alone Pledge: helping students without a family network

Professor Geoff Layer

Professor Geoff Layer

Vice-Chancellor
University of Wolverhampton

Today I will be attending the launch of The Stand Alone Pledge, set up to assist institutions in supporting 'estranged students': students who are studying at university without parents or a family network to rely on. All around the UK, there are more young people than you might imagine who reach higher education without a family to fall back on.

Much like care leavers, these students come from backgrounds where parents or family members have often not acted as a supportive mechanism for their development and progression, and in some cases have actively hindered their opportunities to study and succeed. However, these students do not receive the statutory representation and local authority support that care leavers might.

My university, the University of Wolverhampton, has a high number of low income and black and minority ethnic students and we know from data from the Student Loans Company that a larger percentage of black and minority ethnic students are estranged than in the average student population. We have also recently found out that we have around 150 students who are studying without family support. Many of the issues discussed around care leavers apply to this group, but accommodation is the most profound struggle.

I was unhappy to read in Stand Alone's 'New Starts' report that a percentage of these students declared themselves statutorily homeless during the summer holidays, as they did not have the means to rent a home over the months when most students go home. Some have to spend this time living between hostel accommodation and friends' sofas.  

There are disadvantages to living with profound and consistent financial struggles. 

Many students have no option but to work full-time alongside their studies to cover their living costs. One student told us that she simply does not have the time apply herself to her course, and read her literature adequately, because she is working such long hours.

The stress, pressure and mental health struggles that this kind of university life brings should be a worry for those who wish to improve retention. Stand Alone's research shows that 41% of estranged students have considered dropping out or suspending their course. Fourteen per cent actually do. The Office for Fair Access has recently noted that this is three times higher than the average dropout rate.

At the University of Wolverhampton, we believe that those without a family network behind them, for whatever reason, should not be set up to struggle or underachieve. It is also important that young people without a supportive family network are part of our student population. That's why we are pledging our commitment to improving conditions for estranged students over the next two years.

We will be making sure these young people have access to university accommodation over the summer period to protect against homelessness, and a bursary of £1,000 each year to alleviate their financial struggles. We will also be raising awareness among our staff of the barriers these students may face, to help us identify those students who need this support.  ​

All universities care about their students. However, there is more work to do for us to better understand the personal barriers that our students' face. And as we know, very often family (or lack of) can be the most decisive factor in terms of an individual's resilience and student success. 

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James
James says:
19 October 2016 at 14:57

This report sounds like fantastic news to me. Congratulations and well done! Among those students who will find themselves without a family network to rely on and to support them, may be young carers. These are people who do have a family, but cannot receive support as it they themselves who have to provide, or have had to provide, that same support themselves. The relationships are still in place, but the burden is transferred. I hope shall recognise these people, too.


Klaus-Dieter Rossade
Klaus-Dieter Rossade says:
20 October 2016 at 17:55

Excellent initiative. Good going, Wolverhamption. I hope this finds copycats. It's a realitively modest expense from a university budget, and a vital contribution to the students. Thanks also for raising the profile of this issue so publicly and at a high level.


Barbara
Barbara says:
21 October 2016 at 00:52

The thing I'm wondering is whether this will discriminate against 'mature' students who often have to struggle in the same way as the report only mentions young people. University of Wolverhampton are you going to ignore your mature students in this as the report sounds like you are!