'Because they look at you differently': Understanding the experiences of estranged students in Higher Education

Spacey, Rachel (2019) 'Because they look at you differently': Understanding the experiences of estranged students in Higher Education. In: FACE 2019: Delivering the Public Good of Higher Education – Widening Participation, Place and Lifelong Learning, 3-5 July 2019, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Abstract

In their Access and Participation Plan (APP) guidance, the Office for Students (OfS), refer to “groups that experience disadvantage” in education including estranged students (2019, np). Estranged students often have no contact with their family and are studying at university without the support and approval of a family network. Familial estrangement occurs because of abuse, clash of values and mismatched expectations around family roles. It may also result from divorce, forced marriage and family rejection (OFFA, 2017). The OfS encourages Higher Education Providers (HEPs) to “continue to improve the collection, accuracy and evaluation of estranged student data, both for pre-entry students and those on-course” (2019, np).
Finance and accommodation are key factors influencing estranged students’ university experience since they have to house themselves during university vacations as well as during term time in the absence of a family network (Bland & Shaw, 2015). They may also experience isolation in some part related to their financial situation and because of a lack of understanding around family estrangement: “Stand Alone has found that societal knowledge and awareness regarding family estrangement and disownment is currently low but, conversely, stigma is high” (ibid, p.24).
However, identifying estranged students in order to better understand their needs can be challenging. This presentation reports on two projects with estranged students at UK universities. The projects used photo-elicitation (Project 1) and life writing (Project 2) to help fill the gap in sector knowledge about the unique circumstances of estranged students. The projects are used to explore the ways in which universities can best help estranged students access HE and succeed while they study. The presentation explores how the students were recruited to the studies and considers the ethical issues when undertaking institutional research with estranged students.
This presentation draws on the data from the two studies to show one university’s journey to signing the Stand Alone Pledge to estranged students which is of interest to HEPs who are considering this commitment as part of their APP. It exposes some of the ‘gaps’ in support that universities might be able to plug including during the transition into university, accommodation, moving in, vacations, securing finance, academic engagement and progression via graduation and onto further study or employment. It uses the images taken by the students in Project 1 with the life writing of students in Project 2 to provide a richer understanding of estranged students.

Bland, B. and Shaw, J. (2015) New Starts. The challenge of Higher Education without the support of a family network. Unite Foundation and Stand Alone. Available at: http://standalone.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/StandAloneUNITEfoundation.pdf (accessed 27 March 2019).

Office for Fair Access (2017) Topic Briefing: Estranged Students. Available at: https://www.offa.org.uk/universities-and-colleges/guidance/topic-briefings/topic-briefing-estranged-students/ (accessed 2nd October 2017).

Office for Students (2019) People estranged from their families. Available at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/promoting-equal-opportunities/evaluation-and-effective-practice/estranged-students/ (accessed 27 March 2019).

Keywords:Estranged students, Student experience, student accommodation, Student perspectives, student life, UK universities, Photo-elicitation, Life writing, Higher Education
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
X Education > X900 Others in Education
Divisions:Professional services > Lincoln Higher Education Research Institute
ID Code:37264
Deposited On:02 Oct 2019 09:14

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