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Providing a safe, stable home for Unite Foundation students

Unite Students is proud to be the principal supporter of the Unite Foundation: an independent charity offering a unique accommodation scholarship for care leavers and estranged young people at university. The scholarship takes care of students’ accommodation and bills, covering up to three full years of study.  To date, over 500 young people have been awarded a Unite Foundation student scholarship. Unite Students is also the charity’s accommodation partner.

Ahead of its 10th anniversary, the findings of the latest Unite Foundation student survey are now public. Find out what the scholarship students have to say about their experience of university during the pandemic, what improvements they’d like to see, and what it’s been like living in Unite Students’ buildings.

While the annual survey is a staple of the charity’s engagement with its scholars, the Unite Foundation has revolutionised this engagement over the past year, rebranding its channels as ‘This Is Us’ and allowing students to take the helm of its communications. From its podcast, hosted by Unite Foundation alumnus Paige Mackenzie, to its blog and social media channels, the charity has truly handed over the mic to its students – and the survey is just one part of that approach. 169 students – two-thirds of the 2020/21 Unite Foundation scholarship population – responded to this year’s survey, including 87% of first years and 83% of final year students.

A majority shared positive sentiments about their Unite Students home in 2021. 23% specified that the space, security and location of their building was the biggest positive, but the most important factor as chosen by 29% of respondents was making great – or even lifelong – friendships in their building, even during the pandemic. One student said they had met the love of their life in their accommodation!

When asked about the most important aspect of the Unite Foundation scholarship, 4 in 10 specified that it ‘removed stress and anxiety to allow focus on study’; at least one student identified that their results at university had improved, in part due to having their own study space during the pandemic. A further 32% chose the ability to take part in the full university experience, while 16% said that it was feeling safe and secure in accommodation. In some cases, these factors overlapped. One student wrote: “It has given me stable accommodation during my course, enabling me to live on campus and not worry about the financial burden and emotional stress during winter and summer periods.”

Despite its challenges, some Unite Foundation students really flourished in the past academic year, thanks to the support of the charity, its university partners and Unite Students’ city staff. “I came out as trans this year and [Unite Students] were very accepting and accommodating,” wrote one student, while another shared that our staff were “super friendly and knew [them] by sight so quickly.” One student shared, simply: “It’s nice to be treated as any other normal tenant.”

Overall, 7 in 10 had something positive to say about their time at university in a challenging academic year, with 34% citing a positive academic experience, 15% lauding their social connections, and a further 14% specifying personal support as their main positive. In fact, a third of respondents had such a positive experience that they didn’t suggest any areas for improvement.

Unite Foundation students’ key suggestions for the Higher Education sector included more contact from their university (33%), more financial help (15%), more social opportunities (14%), and further academic support (9%). One response expressed frustration with the difficulties they had faced with the student loans system, having to prove their estranged status every year.

However, the findings broadly reflected positive sentiments from Unite Foundation students, and stood testament to the transformative impact that financial stability, a secure home and a supportive environment can have on students. One student summarised their Unite Foundation experience as such:

“The scholarship provided me with a sense of security and safety that I was previously lacking from my life. Once I had that security and safety, I was able to focus my time and energy on greater things. These opportunities enhanced my skillset and opened up new worlds to me, instilling me with confidence. The scholarship kind of creates a snowball effect of positive change.”

You can learn more about the Unite Foundation from their student-led website, This Is Us, and download their ‘Positive Impact?’ report with Sheffield Hallam University on the factors affecting access, retention and graduate outcomes for care-experienced and estranged university students.