We are the students with no family. We are the students who don’t have mum or dad to go back to during the holidays. We are an intersectional group with multiple different barriers to a safe, structured education and livelihood. We are often fleeing homophobia, domestic abuse, forced marriages, cults, racism, transphobia, religious-differences, or soul-crushing academic and cultural pressures from our families.
We are disproportionately LGBTQ+, working-class and from black and ethnic communities. Many of us are care experienced, or fell through the cracks entirely. Some of us have lived rough on the streets, sofa surfed for months, were thrown out for being pregnant, took jobs that risked our wellbeing and physical safety so we could eat.
We are estranged students.
And we have had to work so, so hard to get into university.
In 2018, there were 8205 of us across the UK. We all have different stories but what we share in common is that we are all estranged from our families - meaning that we are studying without the support and approval of a family network. We have either been forced out or have removed ourselves from a dysfunctional and toxic family situation.
Increasingly universities are waking up to the fact that, if they really want to be ‘diverse’ they need to support estranged students, care leavers and young carers. More and more universities are signing up to the Stand Alone pledge - promising to support their students who are estranged. The Higher Education picture is getting more positive.
We are getting coverage in the national media, with organisations such as the BBC, The Guardian, The Tab, and Refinery29 running articles to raise our profile and to highlight the many issues we face and the need for change.
There are also MPs and MSPs (Scotland) - such as Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin, Labour MP Ian Mearns and Lib-Dem MP Layla Moran who are taking the barriers estranged students face to the centre of government to get policies and laws changed. This year the Scottish government announced the first review of its kind into estranged young people in universities to inform any future potential changes to support for students like us. We are waiting for the rest of the UK to follow suit.
I’m optimistic about change. Things have been getting better. I want to tell any estranged students reading this to hang in there. To keep working for your dreams and to reach out for the support that is available. I know it’s easier said than done - but you deserve the education you fought to access, you are not alone in this experience and I believe in you.
By Ayna Halabjayi (with the support of @estranged_students)
Some Resources for Estranged Students:
Stand Alone Charity: https://www.standalone.org.uk/students/
Who to get in touch with at your University to access support: https://www.standalone.org.uk/students/supportatyouruniversity/
See how many estranged students are at your university: http://www.thestandalonepledge.org.uk/
Thriving & Surviving UK: Instagram page run by estranged and care experienced students for us. You can get in touch with other estranged students there and ask for advice. @estranged_students https://www.instagram.com/estranged_students/?igshid=127e1211ltstm
Student Finance: If you’re an estranged student at a UK University, or you’re planning to go to university, and you’re struggling to evidence your family estrangement with Student Finance England, Wales or Northern Ireland, please write to The Student Loans Company’s new specialist team for estranged students: firstname.lastname@example.org. They can help if you can’t find the right evidence or haven’t told anybody about your estrangement.