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Creating an inclusive and sustainable future for estranged and care experienced university students

  • 26 November 2021
  • By Fiona Ellison

This blog was contributed by Fiona Ellison, Director of the Unite Foundation.

It is estimated that there area over 16,000 estranged and care experienced young people at university across the UK. In its latest insight brief, Office for Students acknowledges that, over the past 20 years, higher education has become more attuned to the needs of care experienced people; this year NNECL launched its quality mark and StandAlone now has over 100 universities and colleges signed up to its pledge to support estranged students, but there is still inconsistency – and particularly for estranged students – some invisibility of support available.

The Positive Impact? report published last year reaffirmed that university is transformative for young people; those who complete their courses can transcend their backgrounds and do as well in their future careers as other students – but too many care leavers and estranged students leave university early. Data for estranged students is still emerging but outcomes statistics published by OfS confirm care experienced students are less likely to continue into the second year of their course. Care leavers remain 38 percent more likely to withdraw from their studies compared to the general population of young people.

So how do we create a more inclusive, supportive and sustainable future for estranged and care experienced students?

At the Unite Foundation we’ve been supporting estranged and care experienced young people for 10 years now, primarily through a home at university. We do this through a unique scholarship scheme.

A home at university means more than just a place to stay, it’s security, consistency and being freed up to make the most of everything that university has to offer.

“I have definitely managed to get better results in my academics at University and been able to focus on getting the best grades possible, this home setting has been very calming and allowed to have my own study space.” – A scholarship student from our annual survey.

Over the next 5 years we’re going to be building on our work so far and addressing how we can help to create an inclusive and sustainable future in higher education for all estranged and care experienced students, not just those who have managed to access and secure specific support.

We’ll be working across 4 key areas:

A home at university.

We’re going to be exploring new funding and delivery models to increase the number of accommodation scholarships we deliver. Over the next 3 years we’ll be using this to build an evidence base with consistent data to make the case for the provision of a home at university for all estranged and care experienced students, as standard.


Students have told us that they would like to meet other estranged and care experienced young people at university; we’re going to be looking at how everyone can feel better connected and part of a bigger, self-sustained community – contributing to an important sense of inclusivity and belonging at university.

Removing housing roadblocks.

Being able to secure and maintain a home through university – and beyond – is challenging for students without any family support. Some students feel they need to be preparing to secure a home after university, from the day they join. Through the launch of a campaign group, we’ll be supporting estranged and care experienced students nationwide to drive change in higher education so that all estranged and care experienced students can secure and maintain a home throughout university and when they graduate.

Bespoke opportunities.

Being armed with a strengthened CV, real world work experience and a list of industry contacts is important for those next steps after graduation – one step closer to your chosen career and securing an income to afford your own home.  Working with a delivery partner, we’ll be broadening our network of employment partners to deliver more opportunities, direct to estranged and care experienced students.

This creates a step change for the Unite Foundation, broadening out our work to explore how we can create a more inclusive and sustainable environment for estranged and care experienced students, and equipping everyone to secure home at university and beyond.

We don’t expect to do this alone. It is about setting out areas for improvement that we know will make a difference for care experienced and estranged students and opening up sector-wide conversations to address how, together, we will achieve these aims.


  1. albert wright says:

    This looks like a great project and I hope it receives more attention and support.

    Young people who lack parents, foster parents and are estranged and become supported by local authorities in the care system, usually through no fault of their own, need as much support as they can get. They are the “front line” for those who believe a place at University for those with talent should be available from any background.

    Let’s hope more resources can be provided to involve a greater number of students through the scholarships described.

  2. Dot Hakim says:

    So much has come forward in such a short space of time – we now have a community!

    The This Is Us student-led community is a dedicated and safe online space for estranged and care-experienced students (and recent graduates) in the UK to connect, share info, arrange meet-ups and more! It’s free, national, and open to all ages & years of study.
    • Link to join:

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