Estranged students in Further (FE) and Higher Education (HE) - experiences: research

Research to understand the experiences of estranged students in further and higher education in Scotland.

Appendix 1: Institutional support for estranged students

1. Introduction

To contextualise institutional approaches to supporting estranged students, researchers reviewed publicly available information targeted at estranged students.

2. Methodology

The review was conducted in May/June 2022. Researchers reviewed publicly available policy documents and strategies to contextualise institutional approaches to estranged students. This involved searching webpages of FE/HE institutions in Scotland. In some cases, letters signed by institutions committing to the Stand Alone pledge were also analysed. Eighteen universities and 26 colleges were included in this strand of the review. Additional details about how Scottish colleges and universities support estranged students were also gleaned from the interviews with stakeholders and the focus group discussions with named contacts from 8 colleges and 6 universities.

3. Overview of support

The colleges and universities included in this review varied greatly in terms of the information and types of support they offered estranged students. These are summarised in Table 6 below.

Table 6: Summary of review of Scottish universities and colleges' information support for estranged students
  Universities Colleges
Signed the Stand Alone Pledge 15 11
Dedicated website for estranged students 15 5
Named contact details provided on website 15 3
365 day accommodation 12  
Estranged students given priority for discretionary fund 7  
System of Guarantorship in place 5  
Bursary or institutional scholarship for estranged students 4  
Accommodation discount/funding for accommodation 2  
Total 18 26

The Stand Alone Pledge is a tool created by the estrangement charity Stand Alone that helps universities and colleges in the UK commit to and develop support for students who are estranged from their families. At the time of the review, the majority of Scottish universities (15 out of 18) had signed the Stand Alone Pledge, while a lower proportion of Scottish colleges had done so (11 out of 26).

On the whole, universities appeared better prepared for addressing the needs of estranged students. The majority of universities (n=15) had a dedicated area of their website which provided information for estranged students, while just 5 of the colleges did so.

Of the 18 Scottish universities, 15 included the details of a named contact/s as a dedicated point of support for estranged students (and often care experienced students as well). This correlated with the institutions who had signed the Stand Alone pledge and who also had a webpage aimed at estranged students.

While 11 colleges had signed the Stand Alone pledge, just five included a dedicated area of their website aimed at estranged students.Of these, just three provided details of a named contact. While it was possible to find links to information about other colleges' Stand Alone pledges, the fact that they did not have a designated area for this on their website meant it would have been difficult for estranged students to find this information. Among other colleges which had signed the pledge, no information was found which described the tailored support they provide to estranged students. The relative invisibility of estranged students on college websites was in stark contrast to the considerable support reported to be provided by colleges in the focus groups conducted with named contacts (see Section 3.6 above).

Most universities, and some colleges provided definitions of estrangement on their webpages for estranged students. Several (5 universities and 1 college) used the definition adopted by the SFC, referring to estrangement as no longer having the support of family due to a breakdown in their relationship which has led to ceased contact. Others defined estrangement as having 'no contact' with parents figures or a permanent or an irrevocable breakdown in the relationship (this included 4 universities and 3 colleges). Six universities offered slightly broader definitions stating that estranged students are those who 'are studying without the support of a family network'. The University of Edinburgh's website detailing the support offered to estranged students notes that: 'You might be classed as an estranged student if you are: aged 25 or under at the start of your studies; without the financial or emotional support of your family due to a breakdown in the relationship'. In addition, several universities provide example of how estrangement can come about, and the potential causes of familial relationship breakdown.

Among the universities which had a website aimed at estranged students, there were considerable differences between the institutions in terms of the amount of information they provided to students. Some included detailed lists of the types of support they offer in relation to finance, accommodation, and academic and pastoral support, while others provided little information, instead encouraging estranged students to make contact with the team to see what support they might be able to access.

4. Financial support

The level of extra financial support available to estranged students varied widely by institution. Seven university's websites noted that estranged students are given priority for discretionary and hardship funding, while several included links for students to follow should they wish to apply for discretionary funding.

Four universities provide bursaries or scholarships specifically aimed at estranged students and other disadvantaged groups. Heriot-Watt University offer an Access bursary of £1,000 per year, while Stirling University offer a £500 bursary. Estranged students are eligible for the maximum support (£5,000 per year) offered by the University of Edinburgh as part of their Access scholarships. The University of Glasgow offer additional bursaries to estranged students but no details of these are provided on their website.

Other types of financial support included:

  • University of Strathclyde: Estranged students a priority group to become a paid Student Ambassador for the duration of their studies
  • Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU): guaranteed interview to become a paid Student Mentor for GCU Outreach
  • University of Stirling: no graduation fee and assistance for gown hire
  • University of Dundee: All estranged students will be offered a personal financial review to ensure they have access to the funding they are entitled to
  • Queen Margaret University: Priority access to paid employment on campus
  • Robert Gordon University: Financial support to attend the university's open days, applicants' days and selection visits
  • Heriot-Watt University: travel costs support
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Priority consideration for financial assistance from our HE Discretionary Fund if student funding package is not sufficient to support students while they study.

Although SAAS have removed reference to the expectation that estranged students will have had no contact for 12 months, this is referenced on the University of Edinburgh's webpage for estranged students. This notes that 'in order to apply for funding, you usually need to be either estranged from your family for 12 months or able to demonstrate that you are unlikely to reconcile.'

5. Accommodation support

Twelve out of 18 universities noted on their estranged students' webpages that they provide 365-days-a-year accommodation for estranged students. Other types of accommodation support offered by universities included:

  • Robert Gordon University: estranged students (and other disadvantaged groups) are offered a discount on their first year's accommodation if they stay in specific halls of residence
  • University of Stirling: offer an Accommodation Enhancement Fund of up to £1,200 to estranged students living in the cheapest University accommodation suitable to their needs
  • St Andrews University: provide help with deposits for private rentals, and no deposit required for student accommodation
  • The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Glasgow Caledonian University: encourage estranged students to apply for Unite scholarships which cover the cost of rent and bills for three years
  • University of the Highlands and Islands: estranged students have priority access to university accommodation

From discussion with participants in the stakeholder interviews and college and university focus groups, we understand that five universities in Scotland offer a rent guarantor system for estranged students who wish to live in privately rented accommodation. However, this is only mentioned on the University of Aberdeen's webpage for estranged students (their rent guarantor scheme covers rents of up to £550 per month). The University of Edinburgh offers a rent guarantor scheme which covers rents of up to £700 per month, but estranged students are not listed as one of the priority groups and it is not mentioned on the estranged student webpage. Likewise, the University of Glasgow's rent guarantor scheme is also not mentioned on their page for estranged students, though it is mentioned on other parts of the website. This is limited to 50 students per year and covers rent of up to £650 per month. Students estranged from their family are one of the groups eligible for the scheme. Although the universities of Stirling and Edinburgh Napier provide rent guarantors to estranged students, little information was found on this on the websites. Four universities without a rent guarantor scheme noted on their websites that estranged students do not require a guarantor for university accommodation.

Colleges tended not to mention offering students spaces in their own accommodation. Only Perth College provided an option for students to stay over the summer, while Inverness College stated that they gave priority access to their accommodation to estranged students.

6. Pastoral and academic support

Universities and, to a lesser extent, colleges offered a range of additional support to estranged students with regards to pastoral and academic support. Some highlighted support for wellbeing and mental health, such as counselling. This included:

  • University of St Andrews: estranged students offered initial meeting with Wellbeing Advisor to ensure they are accessing support they are eligible for
  • Robert Gordon University: counselling service offered as long as is needed, and information provided on external low cost or free counselling support where additional support would be beneficial
  • Queen Margaret University: promotes building up resilience and healthy living to support estranged students
  • University of Stirling: single point of contact available to ensure individualised support package is implemented which includes mental wellbeing support
  • Edinburgh Napier University: access to mental health, counselling, academic and signposting to other student services through Student Wellbeing and Inclusion Department
  • South Lanarkshire College: Assistance with accessing additional support services, such as in-house counselling, pastoral support or mental health services
  • Perth College UHI: Assistance with accessing additional support services - such as in-house counselling, pastoral support or mental health services

Several universities also made it clear that estranged students would receive the same support as that provided to care experienced students. For example, Robert Gordon University acts as a corporate parent for both groups.

Four universities mentioned other types of pastoral support such as peer mentoring and support groups. Queen Margaret University gives estranged students priority places on their peer-mentoring scheme, while Robert Gordon University have student-led support groups for estranged students, as does Edinburgh College. The Royal Conservatoire Scotland promote drop-in sessions for estranged students to meet with other estranged students and support staff. At the University of Edinburgh, estranged students in first year are set up with an undergraduate peer mentor, and are put in touch with networks of other estranged students.

In terms of access to university, 8 universities included estranged students as one of the groups who would receive a guaranteed or adjusted offer of a place. The University of Glasgow, for example, offers free participation in one of their pre-entry programmes, as well as a guaranteed adjusted offer of entry to those who are estranged. Queen Margaret University will give estranged students a guaranteed offer to the course they applied to, based on the minimum entry requirements.

7. Examples of good practice

Our interviews and focus groups with college and university named contacts highlighted the considerable levels of support being provided by Scottish FE and HE institutions. In some cases, this is reflected in institutions' webpages for estranged students while elsewhere it is not. This was particularly the case for the colleges where estranged students were often invisible on their websites, even those colleges which had signed the Stand Alone pledge. While most universities had a dedicated website, the information provided on these was often brief, instead inviting estranged students to contact the institution to discuss their needs.

Institutions can choose how they distribute discretionary funding, with many highlighting the tailored support they can provide on a case by case basis. However, the fact that support can vary by student makes it difficult for institutions to offer a comprehensive list of all the potential types of support they might provide. Most universities, and certainly, many colleges, provide little detail on their websites for the types of support they might be able to give their estranged students. This lack of transparency places the onus on students to approach their institution. It relies on them being confident enough to ask for, and to know what types of support they might need. If students were made more aware of what support they might be able to access, they may be more likely to declare their estranged students to the university or college, ensuring they were able to maximise their support.

Universities and colleges can improve their offer to estranged students by:

  • Providing a dedicated webpage for estranged students
  • Making such websites easy to find and navigate
  • Communicating the potential support available to estranged students by providing as much detail as possible to students about the kinds of things they may be able to assist them with
  • Include links to rent guarantor systems, bursaries, scholarships all in one place to ensure they are easy to find for students
  • Providing details of a named contact
  • Where a system of guarantorship exists, make this known to students, along with the caveats associated with it.



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