The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have pledged to improve the experience of students studying without family support.
Among the commitments, the University of Oxford has announced it will provide a non-repayable bursary of up to £7,200 pa to pay for vacation accommodation, with other students where possible, and unlimited access to counselling services. The University of Cambridge similarly promised to grant a non-repayable bursary and accommodation during vacations.
Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education at the University of Oxford has stated: “Recent research and awareness raising in the HE sector has led us to recognize 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”. The Pro-Vice Chancellor has promised to work with Stand Alone, a charity supporting estranged people, in training the welfare staff to tackle issues faced by estranged students.
In the summer, Oxford SU undertook a research project, looking into the problems faced by estranged students at Oxford. The resulting report cast light on the issues and proposed recommendations that will be addressed in the next two years.
Ellie Macdonald Oxford SU VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities responded: “We were overwhelmed by the response of students who for the first time shone a light onto their university experiences here.”
According to recent research, while 86% rely on their families during their studies at university, around 9,000 students in the UK don’t have such support, leaving them materially and emotionally vulnerable. The latest Oxford SU report revealed that as many as 43% of estranged students couchsurf or are otherwise homeless in the vacations, while 58% reported to have severe mental problems as a result of isolation, burnout and stress. Facing such financial and psychological risks, estranged students are up to three times more likely to drop out of university.
Most commonly, estranged students are part of the LBGT+ community, rejected by their families after coming out, students from immigrant families or those alienated by divorce and remarriage. Some have also lost family support as a result of pursuing education against their family’s wishes.
Macdonald said: “It is fantastic to see two of the top UK universities undertaking a commitment to helping estranged students.
She added: “Hopefully, this will encourage other universities to examine the support they currently offer and enhance their provisions so that no student has to be disadvantaged whilst studying in university if they don’t have family support.”