The University of Sunderland has been nominated for two awards thanks to the support it offers estranged students.

Estranged students are young people studying without the support or approval of their family network. Such students can face a range of challenges and they have a drop-out rate which is three times higher than average.

In January 2017, the University of Sunderland became the only one in the north east to sign up to the Stand Alone Pledge, a promise to create a supportive environment for estranged students.

The university identified 81 estranged students and set up an Estranged Student Support Team to help them and ensure they weren’t held back. The team is currently working with 27 such students, a number likely to increase as more estranged students come forward.

Because each estranged student’s circumstances are unique, the team creates a personalised support package for each one to help them settle into university life and achieve their potential.

The support team helps with issues such as student finance and funding, employment and part-time work, and mental health and wellbeing. A scholarship of £15,000 a year has been introduced and the accommodation of estranged students is guaranteed, including in the holiday period.  

The university has now been nominated for two awards in recognition of this work: a Guardian University Award in the Widening Access and Outreach Category and a WhatUni Student Choice Award for the Best Prospective Student Engagement Campaign.

Keiran Cull, who is studying BSc Physiological Sciences, said, “I’ve been estranged from my family for three years. I chose to come to university because I always thought I could do more. I was always told I couldn’t, but I want to prove that I’m intelligent.”

“I’m here and I’m still going and after my degree, I’m going to study for a Masters degree.”

Keiran, who wants to be a neuroscientist, experienced financial difficulties in her first year. She was at first unaware that help was available, but things soon improved after she met the support team.

Keiran said, “I met with the team and they just said, “We can help you with everything.” It has taken a lot of worry off my mind. I thought I would have to move out in July and they already said they’ll help me with that.”

“At the start of my degree, I was working just as hard in my job to support myself, but the financial support I now receive has allowed me to reduce my hours and really focus more on my studies.”

Kieran also said that “having someone to talk to is so important to me. Knowing that there’s someone there when I’m doubting myself, or I’m struggling with work, it means everything to me.”

Wendy Price, who heads the Estranged Student Support Team, said, “We are delighted to have been shortlisted for these awards and hope that they will raise awareness across the sector of the importance of supporting estranged students.”

“Our estranged students are among the most committed, resilient and ambitious people I have ever met.”

The winners of both awards will be announced in April.

(Featured image courtesy of Monika, from Flickr Creative Commons)

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