‘I was nearly made homeless again this year because I’d run out of emergency accommodation’ (Costa, Taylor, Goodfellow. and Ecochard, 2020, p.116) The ever-present fear of homelessness – a far cry from the student dream
Homelessness or the constant fear of such is not readily associated with the student experience. Yet a survey by National Union of Students Scotland (2022) found that 12% of all students had experienced homelessness with the highest reported rates being in widening participation students. Estranged students showed the highest rates with one third of those sampled reporting homelessness. Estranged students are officially defined as those who have been irreconcilably estranged from their parents for a substantial amount of time (Office for Students, 2020, Scottish Funding Council. 2020, UCAS,2019).
The reasons behind these figures are complex but two of the key themes that came through whilst undertaking my literature review were flawed assumptions by higher education institutions and increasing costs in the privately rented sector leading to affordability issues for students.
University accommodation is underpinned by an assumption of the ‘typical student,’ a student that has a familial home to return to during university holiday periods such as Christmas, Easter and summer. Estranged students do not fit in to this assumption, they are impacted not only by absence of family support but also social and economic capital. Findings from the literature review found that student accommodation as home had greater importance emotionally for estranged students, it might be the first time they had experienced a settled, non-traumatic home (Bland and Shaw, 2015). The literature identified the summer months as a key pinch point for estranged students when they are at increased risk of becoming homeless (Costa, Taylor, Goodfellow and Ecochard, 2020, StandAlone, 2022). StandAlone is the main third sector organisation offering support and guidance to estranged young people (including students in higher education.
The reasons behind this vary but some cited include that where accommodation over the summer months is offered by higher education institutions (HEIs) it is too expensive for students without the benefit of familial support to consider. Many work in sectors which are served by zero-hours contracts, and all are impacted by the current student finance system which does not cover the summer period. It is not just cost that is an issue with the accommodation offered. As will be discussed later many HEIs offer accommodation over the summer months in Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). Many of these blocks of student accommodation have similar cladding to that at Grenfell Tower (Aluminum Composite Material at Grenfell but High-Pressure Laminate at student accommodation blocks) which has not been replaced, due to the transient nature of students resulting in a lack of cohesive tenant action (Renew UK, 2022, Morby,2021). The dangers of this type of cladding can be seen in The Cube Student Accommodation fire of 2019 (Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. 2022). This is another source of anxiety for students, especially those restricted in choice for over the summer.
The impact of this insecurity has an ongoing effect on estranged students’ ability to achieve their full potential at university as well as impacting on their mental well-being. Preece and Bimpson (2019) discuss the stigma that can arise from house sharing and the impact on mental well-being of insecure housing, ironically Martin (2010) identifies that one major protective factor against mental health stigma amongst university students is family support.
The second, equally important outcome of this disruption upon estranged students is that of lowered grades and/or non-continuation of studies. Students in the literature stated that they struggled to readjust to studies following the summer months and indeed in the approach to the summertime as housing was an ever-present issue. Some students identified that the need to self-support impacted not only their grades but also the ability to enjoy extra-curricular student life (Costa, Taylor, Goodfellow and Ecochard, 2020, StandAlone, 2022). Non-continuation rates for 2014-2015 were 11.2% higher than in non-estranged students, although this gap has decreased to 8.2% for 2017-2018, perhaps reflecting an increase in visibility of estranged students (Office for Students, 2020). The rates of students receiving a first or high second class degree showed that there was a 13% lower rate of estranged students achieving those higher grades (Office for Students, 2020).
On undertaking content analysis of the websites of forty-eight universities, twenty-four Russell Group and twenty-four Post 92, the outcomes were unsurprising. Most universities did not offer a rent guarantor scheme, or it was not stated on their website, only sixteen universities offered a Unite Foundation Scholarship (offering three years free accommodation).
There is relatively little research into the experiences of estranged students and they are an invisible (or overlooked group) in terms of accommodation provision during their studies, however the decrease in non-continuation rates would appear to show the impact of supportive interventions.
Bland, B. and Shaw, J. 2015. New Starts: The Challenges of Higher Education without the Support of A Family Network. [Online].[Accessed 7 December 2021]. Available at: https://www.standalone.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/StandAloneUNITEfoundation.pdf
Costa, C., Taylor, Y., Goodfellow, C. and Ecochard, S., 2020. Estranged students in higher education: navigating social and economic capitals. Cambridge Journal of Education. 50(1), pp.107-123
Martin, J.M., 2010. Stigma and student mental health in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 29(3), pp.259-274.
Morby, A. 2021. Student rooms developer to strip HPL cladding from 22 buildings. [online]. [Accessed 7 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.constructionenquirer.com/2021/07/27/student-rooms-developer-to-strip-hpl-cladding-from-22-buildings/
National Union of Students (Scotland). 2022. Broke: How Scotland is failing its students. [Online]. [Accessed 3 February 2022]. Available from: https://www.nus-scotland.org.uk/resources/broke-how-scotland-is-failing-its-students
Office for Students. 2020. Differences in student outcomes – further characteristics. [Online]. [Accessed 7 December 2020]. Available from:
Preece, J. and Bimpson, E., 2019. Housing and Insecurity and Mental Health in Wales. CaCHE, University of Glasgow: Glasgow.
Preece, J. 2021. Living through the building safety crisis Impacts on the mental wellbeing of leaseholders. CaCHE, University of Glasgow: Glasgow.
Renew UK. 2022. Dangerous flammable cladding and student halls: how worried should we be? [Online].[Accessed 7 March 2022]. Available at:
Scottish Funding Council. 2020. Estranged Students. [Online]. [Accessed 7 December 2021]. Available from:
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. 2022. The Cube Incident Report and Key Observations regarding the fire which occurred on 15 November 2019.
[Online]. [Accessed 12 March 2022]. Available from:
About the author
Fiona Powell received a bursary to attend the Housing Studies Association Annual Conference 2022.
As part of the bursary, recipients are expected to contribute to the HSA blog, and this blog post is based on the paper presented at the HSA conference.
Find out more about the HSA conference bursaries.