By Jack Taylor
Durham University has officially signed the ‘Stand Alone Pledge’, publicly committing to support students who are studying without the support of their family.
The pledge, created by the charity Stand Alone, is designed to help institutions develop four areas of support for the benefit of estranged students.
Cambridge, Oxford, Exeter and UCL have already signed up the the scheme. The pledge was created by Stand Alone in response to their research that found 14% of estranged students had dropped out of university, with 41% considering the same, due to money pressures, stress or mental health struggles, three times higher than the average national student.
“Anyone with the ability and desire to benefit from a Durham education should be able to do so”
They also found that 60% of cases had a lack of social service intervention, with 28% not feeling comfortable enough accessing support from their university.
In their announcement the University said: “We believe that anyone with the ability and desire to benefit from a Durham education should be able to do so, regardless of their background, but we know that students who lack a family network or support face special challenges that most other students don’t.
Those Student Finance England (or equivalent) define as estranged students are eligible to receive the full Durham Grant – currently £2,000 per year. The university also operates a hardship fund for cases of urgent financial difficulty.
All the outlined support will especially help students outside of term-time
“University accommodation is available 365 days a year. Durham students are not required to provide a guarantor or pay a deposit for University accommodation. Our Students’ Union is also working on a guarantor scheme to support estranged students in private housing.
“Our Colleges provide a pastoral support network able to offer guidance, as well as signposting students to relevant services such as Disability Support or the Counselling Service. Academic Advisers, responsible for academic advice, are available in academic departments.
“Estranged students are prioritised for the University’s two outreach programmes for local Year 12 students. Successful completion of these programme can lead to a guaranteed conditional offer, typically two grades below the standard offer.”
Estranged students are prioritised for the University’s two outreach programmes Amie Key, leader of the Durham Estranged Students group, welcomed the pledge.
She said: “The Durham Estranged Students group are delighted that the University has signed the Stand Alone Pledge.
“Last term we ran a successful campaign, facilitated by the Students’ Union and Stand Alone, to raise awareness of family estrangement and encourage the University to sign the Stand Alone Pledge, so to hear that they have signed the Pledge following this is fantastic news.
“All the outlined support will especially help students outside of term-time, when Student Finance money is stretched further than it’s designed to go on rent and estranged students may be left alone in Durham.
The University announced in October that the college accommodation fees will rise
“While most of the support they’ve announced has been in place for a while, it is excellent that they are advertising this support and who is eligible to access it.”
This comes after the University announced in October that the college accommodation fees will rise for 2019/20 to £7,672.
The Durham Estranged Student’s group is planned to meet the Vice-Chancellor in the coming weeks to discuss their experiences at the University, something that is commonly done by other institutions that sign the pledge.
The group is committed to pressuring the university into further action. Key commented, “Our focus is to continue to lobby the University to improve their support, raise awareness of family estrangement across Durham, and develop our network for students who want to know others who are estranged from their families.”
Photograph by Maddie Flisher