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Estranged students

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SFC recognises estranged students as a group ‘at risk’ of not achieving their full potential, from aspirations through to successful outcomes.

Who are estranged students?

An estranged person is someone who no longer has contact with their parents or legal guardians, due to a permanent breakdown in their relationship (isolated instances of contact will be considered on a case by case basis).

Estranged students have no experience of being in care and do not have a corporate parent responsible for them.

Why do estranged students require additional support?

The Independent Review of Financial Support for Students in Scotland published in 2017 identified estranged students as a disadvantaged group.

The recommendations were approved by the Scottish Government which highlighted that estranged students are distinct from independent students because they have been permanently estranged from their parents and do not have parental support.

The Scottish Government commissioned ScotCen Social Research (ScotCen) to undertake research on the experiences of estranged students in Scotland. In November 2022 the Scottish Government published Estranged students in Further (FE) and Higher Education (HE)  – experiences: research and its associated literature review.  This research found that being estranged impacted on students’ experiences of further education (FE) and higher education (HE) in Scotland in many ways, including lack of money to afford living essentials, concerns about accommodation, and on their physical and mental health and wellbeing.  Interviewees highlighted to the researchers that estrangement had adversely impacted on their experiences of school, college and university in terms of attainment, transitions and progression.

Research published in 2019 by the University of Strathclyde, Estranged Students in Higher and Further Education, found that estranged students often encounter the same issues as those with care-experience. Estranged students reported on their experiences of severe financial hardship, accommodation and the fear of homelessness, the impact on belonging and stigmatisation, mental health issues and disrupted study.

Local authorities have no statutory responsibility to look after their welfare as estranged students are most likely to remove themselves from damaging family relationships between the ages of 16-19 (Stand Alone 2015).

SFC support

SFC is a representative of the Estranged Students Stakeholder Group, chaired by Stand Alone, with representatives from the college and university sector and other stakeholders like NUS Scotland, SAAS and the Scottish Government.

Colleges and universities have been reporting on their activities to support estranged students through their outcome agreements since AY 2016-17. We encourage our institutions to take the Stand Alone pledge.

We would like institutions to provide estranged students with the same level of support as care-experienced students as per their corporate parenting responsibilities. This would include a named point of contact for advice and support from the point of entry through to graduation, a dedicated web page for estranged students outlining the support available and how to access it and including estranged students in widening participation and outreach work. We support Scottish HEIs to include estranged in their contextualised admissions policy.

Useful links

Stand Alone – a charity that supports those estranged from their families.

Financial Support for Estranged Students – Scotland (

SAAS guidance for estranged students (students studying at HE level).

UCAS support for estranged students.

Unite Foundation scholarships provide free accommodation to support young people who are estranged for three years of study.

Stand Alone

SFC is proud to have worked with Stand Alone to drive forward the visibility of and support for estranged learners.

We have supported estranged learners through various mechanisms including our Outcome Agreement guidance to the sectors, prioritising estranged FE students for financial support within discretionary fund guidance to colleges, working closely with Stand Alone and other partners on their Scottish stakeholder group and since 2020-21 reporting annually on numbers of estranged students at colleges and universities within our Report on Widening Access publication.

We are very grateful to the team at Stand Alone for their work to raise the profile and needs of estranged students. It has been a privilege to work with them. Looking forward we will continue to work to:

  • ensure inclusivity of estranged students within our data collections and publications which are continually reviewed and enhanced
  • maintain estranged students as a priority group within our FE Discretionary Fund guidance to colleges
  • support and elevate the work by our sectors to support estranged students
  • work in partnership with our sectors and stakeholders to support estranged students as part of our wider priority to protect the interests of current and future students, including enabling students to access tertiary education and receive the services and support they require to flourish and succeed.

SFC Strategic Plan 2022-27

Building a connected, agile, sustainable tertiary education and research system for Scotland.

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