More than 150 estranged Sunderland students supported by city's university during pandemic

New figures show that 185 students without family support have been assisted by the university during the global pandemic as many had no family home to go to during lockdown.

University of Sunderland, City Campus, Chester Road, Sunderland.
University of Sunderland, City Campus, Chester Road, Sunderland.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the UK, the majority of students followed Government orders and returned to their families to see out lockdown – but for some, there was no family home to go to.

The University of Sunderland’s We Care Team has supported 185 care experienced and estranged students over the past 18 months during the “particularly challenging” time.

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We Care Team has supported students without family support both before and during the pandemic.

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were roughly 9,400 estranged students and more than 3,400 care leavers recorded in 2020-21, some who may have been in their second or third year of study.

The University of Sunderland has been highlighted as an example of excellent practice by the Office for Students, who looked at the practical steps universities and colleges are taking to help students without family support during the pandemic and beyond.

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Wendy Price, Head of Widening Access and Participation at the University of Sunderland said: “Throughout all the periods of lockdown we were in regular contact with our care experienced and estranged students.

"Some have no option but to stay in student accommodation, so we were continuously checking to make sure they were coping with online study, staying engaged and active, as well as offering them practical support and help with any money worries. All of our students coped incredibly well in often difficult and challenging circumstances.”

As university students prepare to begin a new term this month, charity Stand Alone has warned that thousands will face the upcoming academic year without a family to provide financial or emotional support – many of whom may have experienced abuse or homelessness.

CEO Becca Bland said many can struggle to afford university accommodation and often have to work full-time alongside their studies to fund living costs not covered by their loans.

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During the pandemic, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan encouraged universities to prioritise estranged students and care leavers for additional support, saying they would need "all the help they can get".

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