Hundreds of Leeds students estranged from family support as they prepared for studies

Hundreds of Leeds students reported having no family to turn to as they prepared to support themselves through their studies last year, figures show.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:45 am
A charity has warned that thousands will face the upcoming academic year without a family to provide financial or emotional support (stock image)

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the UK, the majority of students followed Government orders and returned to their families to see out lockdown – but for some, there was no family home to go to.

And as higher education students prepare to begin a new term, a charity has warned that thousands will face the upcoming academic year without a family to provide financial or emotional support – many of whom may have experienced abuse or homelessness.

Figures published by the Student Loans Company (SLC) show that at least 156 Leeds Beckett University students aged under 25 received financial assistance in the 2020-21 academic year due to being irreconcilably estranged from their parents following a relationship breakdown.

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There were 99 students at the University of Leeds in the same position, as well as 49 students at Leeds Trinity University and 23 at Leeds Arts University.

A further 99 students across the four universities applied for means-tested funding after leaving the care system.

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were roughly 9,400 estranged students and more than 3,400 care leavers recorded in 2020-21, some who may have been in their second or third year of study.

Barriers for those students to enter and succeed in higher education are high, according to charity Stand Alone, which supports estranged adults.

CEO Becca Bland said: "These students most often have been rejected by family members for being LGBT+ or transitioning, have survived forced marriages or other abuses in their parental home.

"Many are coming to university from homeless backgrounds and may already live in hostel accommodation."

Dr Bland said many struggle to afford university accommodation and often have to work full-time alongside their studies to fund living costs not covered by their loans.

She added: "It isn't only term time that provides a challenge, the summer holiday period often means students feel stranded and adrift as they cannot return to a family home.

"When they graduate, the safety net of university life is often taken away suddenly and these young people can re-experience homelessness.

"We have seen cases of some students buying tents to move into after graduation."

She added that the "privilege" of family support should not be underestimated.

During the pandemic, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan encouraged universities to prioritise estranged students and care leavers for additional support, saying they would need "all the help they can get".

Estranged students and care leavers aged under 25 are entitled to the full package of student finance, which includes tuition fees and a maintenance loan worth approximately £9,200 a year or £12,000 in London. Some may also qualify for additional bursaries.

A spokeswoman for the SLC said funding for such students is not based on household income and they are able to access a specialist team of advisors to support them through their application.