Case study

in higher

In our study, Homeless in HE: Exploring Hidden Homelessness and Rough Sleeping among Students, we wanted to determine not only the incidence of homelessness, rough sleeping or home insecurity among higher education (HE) students but also the factors and experiences that contribute to this.

Our study

Our preliminary findings show that homelessness, home insecurity and rough sleeping among higher education (HE) students is a substantial problem.

Using a bespoke online survey to collect data, the research aimed to:

For this study, our research team, led by Professor Kate Moss from our College of Business, Law and Social Sciences, collected data from students at one post-1992 university in the West Midlands. As well as the online survey, we interviewed university administrators from six institutions to determine:

A largely hidden problem

There has been no academic debate on student homelessness with the exception of the work of Mulrenan (2018:1). He reports: “Student homelessness is a significant and an under-researched barrier to students reaching their potential – the impact of which is far-reaching in terms of their emotional wellbeing and ability to fully participate in university life.”

Aside from this, the scale of homelessness and rough sleeping among students in HE is a largely hidden problem. It is absent from organisational attention.

There is currently no research or data on the prevalence, causation, duration, and experiences of home insecurity among students in UK. This is one of the reasons why we felt this was an area of research that should be investigated.

Our survey was used to collect data from students about their experiences and/or knowledge of homelessness. We are conducting qualitative interviews with personnel at six Midlands universities. This includes members of staff working with Student Unions, Accommodation Officers, Welfare Services and those who administered Hardship Funds.

This research was funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant for a period of two years, 2018-2020. It will be completed in August 2020.

From ‘sofa surfing’ to derelict buildings

This scoping study is still ongoing but preliminary findings have identified that, within one West Midlands University, student homelessness is a substantial problem.

Students detailed where they spent their homeless nights. This included:

A number of female students reported exchanging sexual services for a bed for the night. Not every student in the sample wanted to tell the University due to embarrassment, shame, and fear of being labelled.

Of those self-identifying as homeless, 78% had a full or part time job. They felt the biggest impact was on their ability to focus on academic work and on engaging with other aspects of university life.

A third of our sample was helped by friends, generally in terms of ‘sofa-surfing’, but a further third was not helped by anyone. A theme that stood out from the responses collected was the issue of not knowing what to do and the lack of assistance available

The future

Having explored these issues at one UK University, it seems appropriate to develop this and encompass 164 UK Universities. This more ambitious project would follow the aims of and build on our single-site project.

The results of our initial project have already had an impact on the university where the scoping study is being carried out. Specifically, it has resulted in acknowledgement that the university has a problem with hidden homelessness and that a change in the policies for dealing with students deemed to be at risk of homelessness was necessary.

The role of the ‘academic coach’ (the personal tutor to all new entrants) has been changed to reflect this in both their interactions with new students and the assistance they give them in their transition to HE. We also have the support of the National Union of Students for this proposal.

As a result we will be making made a bid for further funding to the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) to extend this study to 164 UK Universities.

Kate Moss wearing a scarf and smiling

Professor Kate Moss
Professor of Applied Criminology

Kate specialises in applied research, project management and income generation. She has undertaken research for numerous organisations including the British Academy, the Home Office, both in London and regionally in Nottingham, the National Police Training Units at Bramshill and Easingwold, the Prime Ministers Delivery Unit, and the European Commission.

View full staff profileView full staff profile
a city at night showing connection points

Research in the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences

Discover more about our research within the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences

Find out moreFind out more