The University of Oxford has committed to improving the student experience for undergraduates who study without family support by taking the Stand Alone Pledge.
Recent research has shown that 86% of students rely on family support during their time at University. However, around 9,000 UK students have no contact or relationship with their families, leaving them financially, materially and emotionally vulnerable during their studies.
Accounts of student life show that estranged students often suffer homelessness over summer and stay in student accommodation alone over the Christmas period. Such students may be up to three times more likely to drop out of university.
Estranged students are commonly LGBT+ students who were rejected by family after coming out, children of immigrant families who reject practices such as forced marriage or FGM, or children who are distanced after divorce and remarriage. 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.
Oxford has joined other universities in pledging to create additional institutional support for those undergraduates who may be struggling because their families aren’t behind them.
The University will create a bespoke non-repayable bursary of up to £7,200 pa to help estranged undergraduate students meet the costs of living outside of term time. Vacation accommodation will be provided, and where possible students will be offered housing with others who live in Oxford over the holidays. Estranged students will have unlimited access to counselling resources, giving them an additional source of emotional support.
Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Oxford University, said: 'The University of Oxford is committed to ensuring equality and diversity in its student population. Recent research and awareness raising in the HE sector has led us to recognise that not all students will be studying with the support and approval of their family network.
'This can lead to significant barriers for students, who lack family capital. As well as improving support and access to it, we will work with Stand Alone to train welfare staff in colleges and others in key roles to understand the issues faced by estranged students, and how we can best support them.'
Becca Bland, Chief Executive of Stand Alone, said: 'Students are often assumed by default to have family support, and there is often an inbuilt structural need for students to fall back on the resources that family may supply, such as housing over the summer period and a place to celebrate Christmas. Recent reports have indicated that the living costs for students are spiralling, and without family behind you, making university work financially is a huge challenge.
'We're so pleased that two of the UK’s top research universities have recognised the barriers that students who are estranged from family may face in this sense, and we hope this pledge will help more young adults at these institutions feel confident in coming forward to access the help and support which may level the playing field for them.'