Chris Skidmore. Photograph credit: Josh Caius Corporate Event Photographers
A new report commissioned by the Unite Foundation sheds light on the needs of students who do not have family support. The Unite Foundation – a charitable trust that awards scholarships of free purpose-built accommodation for three years of study at university – shared the highlights of the report at an event in parliament this week.

The event was hosted by Unite Foundation Director Eluned Parrott and attended by the Universities Minister, the Director for Fair Access and Participation, Chris Millward, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, Professor Sir Chris Husbands and Unite Students CEO Richard Smith, amongst other sector professionals. The charitable trust was founded by student accommodation provider Unite Students in 2012 with the purpose of widening participation in Higher Education for those with a background of being estranged from their families or in care.

The Unite Foundation research brings together Sheffield Hallam University in partnership with the charity Stand Alone and Oxford University’s Rees Centre. It draws on analysis of national datasets and in-depth interviews with both students and staff to reveal four main findings :

  • University is transformative

Care leavers and estranged student who go to university and complete their course do as well as other students in their future careers, but they face specific barriers to access and participation because of their background and circumstances and are less likely to complete their course.

  • Bureaucracy is a barrier

Students have to reveal their personal situation, again and again, to access the support and help they’re entitled to, and this impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

  • Support needs unity of purpose

A single point of contact for support and advice while at university is key to helping care leavers and estranged students navigate the system

  • There’s still too much we just don’t know

Improved data collection by universities and government bodies would enable further understanding of the barriers these students face, and how they can be overcome.

The Education Secretary, Chris Skidmore said:

“Everyone, including those leaving care and those estranged from their families, should have the opportunity and the support to thrive in university. Care leavers at university face different pressures to their peers and we must continue to improve the support they receive.

“I’m glad to see progress being made through this report to highlight the barriers these students face and how to best help them succeed. We all have a collective responsibility to young people who unfortunately don’t have family support, and I hope the sector makes good use of this research and prioritises the needs of these groups.”

Eluned Parrott. Photograph credit: Josh Caius Corporate Event Photographers

Unite Foundation Director, Eluned Parrott, said:

“This research shines a light on the challenges that care-leavers and estranged students face, and most importantly, it does so in their own words.

“By giving voice to their experience we’ve learned so much more than the nuts and bolts of what challenges and barriers they face: we’ve learned about the impact that a hostile environment has on their wellbeing and their chances of success.

“We’ve been able to prove that university truly is a transformative experience for care-leavers and estranged students, but too many are still unable to complete their course.  Our hope is that by building targeted support around these students, we can help them complete their studies and build the future that they deserve.”

Chris Skidmore, Eluned Parrott and Richard Smith. Photograph credit: Josh Caius Corporate Event Photographers

Unite Students CEO Richard Smith said:

“I believe that, if they want to go, no-one should miss out on the university experience or the infinite opportunities it brings because of their background. I’m therefore delighted to be able to support the invaluable work of the Foundation.

“I, in particular, welcome the contribution this research makes to the understanding of this particular cohort of students and the unique set of challenges they face. As the UK’s largest student accommodation provider, there’s plenty for us to think about here and I’m committed to continuing working with our university partners to help deliver more opportunities and better outcomes for these young people.

“We welcome the Universities Minister’s support for the aims of the Unite Foundation and this report.”

Asher Flanagan, A Unite Foundation scholar and Education Worker at IntoUniversity – a charity that runs learning centres providing educational programmes that address social exclusion – said:

“Being from a care background, I feel quite strongly about raising awareness and starting a public conversation around the difficulties people like me face at a time when they are just trying to take responsibility and plan for their future.

“I was lucky as I got the Unite Foundation scholarship, which allowed me to have a physical home while I was studying, which was a big relief at a time of significant change in my life. I graduated last year with a 1st in Psychology from the University of Bristol and I’m now doing a job I feel passionate about.

“It isn’t the same for everyone though and I would like to see more research into understanding the challenges faced so we can start to revisit things like the application for funding process – which often relies on things like ‘income of parents’ which in itself, is quite difficult for an estranged young person to provide.”