Topic briefing

Estranged students

Published 27 July 2020

The issue

Estranged students often lack the support of their wider family. They may be estranged before entering higher education but can become estranged during their studies.

We include estranged students in our definition of underrepresented groups because national data indicates there are particular equality gaps and support needs that can be addressed in access and participation plans.

This video from BBC Stories explores what it’s like to study without support from your parents.

Key facts

  1. A report by Stand Alone and Unite found that estranged students are more likely to be from groups that experience disadvantage in education compared with the student population as a whole.
  2. A survey by Stand Alone found that 14 per cent of estranged students had suspended or deferred their studies and 27 per cent had considered doing so, with financial stress cited as the main reason for this.
  3. Estranged students often have similar needs to care experienced students. About one in five have been in care, but do not fit the statutory definition of a care leaver.
  4. Local authorities have no statutory responsibility to look after the welfare of estranged students, or provide accommodation in the holiday periods, as they do for care leavers. Estranged students are therefore at risk of financial difficulty, summer homelessness and social isolation.
  5. Of the 201 2024-25 access and participation plans that were approved as of 20 November 2019, 126 plans refer to estranged students.


Students who are ‘estranged’ have no communicative relationship with either of their living biological parents and often their wider family networks as well. This could be because of abuse, forced marriage and/or family rejection because of belonging to the LGBT community (Unite Foundation and Stand Alone Charity, ‘New starts: The challenges of Higher Education without the support of a family network’, 2015).

Estranged students don't have the same legal protections as care leavers. Local authorities have no statutory responsibility for their welfare.

Published 27 July 2020

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