With the media attention focusing on students getting home for Christmas, Spectra – social value agency and delivery partner of the DfE (@educationgovuk) funded Care Leaver Covenant – is joining forces with prominent organisations in advising all UK universities to provide extra provision for those who have no home to return to or cannot go home due to family health concerns.
Spectra, Become, Stand Alone, NNECL and the Unite Foundation have come together to write an open letter to all UK university Vice-Chancellors alerting them that, in the year of the pandemic, students without family support could feel even more isolated than in previous years, due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions and the national conversation about their peers returning home for the festive period.
The letter makes a series of recommendations for all universities in the country, providing advice on how best to support care experienced, estranged and international students, as well as those who must stay away from family members due to health issues.
Thousands of students across the UK live without family, all year-round – either in halls of residence or private accommodation – and catering for them this year will evidentially be more difficult because of coronavirus restrictions.
Spectra and collaborators’ recommendations to institutions to support these students include clear communication on coronavirus testing and availability of university services, inclusive communication catering for diverse circumstances, cultures and beliefs and student services to stay open throughout Christmas unless there are safety reasons for their closure. The open letter advises that not only are libraries, study spaces, labs and studios invaluable resources but they are also invaluable spaces for students to meet and spend time with others.
Mark Rogers, Chair of the Advisory Board of the Care Leaver Covenant, which has Spectra as its delivery partner, said:
“As friends and fellow students prepare to leave university, many without definite dates of return, remainer students are likely to feel isolated. With simple but decisive action, a strong community can be fostered over the winter break to ensure this sector of the student population is supported.”
London-based Kingston University, which is a signatory of the Covenant and has a specialised scheme for care leaver students called KU Cares, is one such higher education institution which is taking a different approach to offer support in 2020.
In past years Kingston has held an annual festive social event for care leaver students and worked with the students’ unions to ensure they each received a gift. As in-person events cannot be held and because many students have been accessing their studies remotely, Kingston is making an extra effort to create opportunities for students to link up virtually, meet others in similar situations to themselves, and form their own networks. The university conducted a survey with all care leaver students to find anyone who may be spending Christmas by themselves, who would like to be linked up with other students, and what specific support individual students feel they need during this time. As a result of these survey responses, Kingston is organising a series of “meet-up” virtual events and students will also have some surprises sent directly to them.
Professor Steven Spier, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, said:
“The festive period can be particularly challenging for those without families to go home to and this will be made harder this year due to the pandemic. Therefore, the support and sense of community that we strive to offer through our KU Cares programmes becomes all the more important. That is why we have made every effort to adapt and to ensure our students are supported during this time. This year, we are working more intensively on a one-to-one basis with students, to ensure that they are in contact with the right support services, and are aware of the support they can access over the winter break.”