Care leavers ‘lack support’ getting into university

Recent figures also show that the attainment gap is growing

November 30, 2022
Source: iStock

The majority of UK students who have been in care do not receive any specific support when deciding where to study, a new Ucas report shows.

It comes as recent figures show that the attainment gap between care leavers and other students is growing, with experts saying the pandemic has had a “disproportionate” effect.

The new report, which uses Ucas data and survey responses, says 60 per cent of students with experience of being in care received no specific guidance while at school or college about how someone in their situation should apply to university.

Fiona Ellison, director of the Unite Foundation, which helped publish the report, said a lack of “bespoke support” was just one of many barriers care-experienced students face, but it could “transform” their situation.

Accommodation was found to be a key factor for care-experienced applicants when deciding where to study.

Without knowing where they can live – particularly during the summer holidays – or not knowing who can act as a guarantor, many care leavers will not consider higher education at all, Ms Ellison said.

The report also found that a growing number of care-experienced students are progressing to higher education, but Ms Ellison warned that the cost-of-living crisis will have a “massive impact” and might slow this rise.

“If the money isn’t there, and the focus isn’t there and the support systems aren’t there, it’s always going to be a massive problem for this group of students,” she told Times Higher Education.

Recent figures from the Office for Students show that 70.6 per cent of full-time care-experienced students achieved a first or upper-second classification in their first degree in 2020-21 – down from 72.3 per cent in 2019-20.

This meant that the attainment gap between them and the general student population grew to 12.9 percentage points – the highest since their records began in 2016-17.

Neil Harrison, associate professor in education and social justice at the University of Exeter, said this had to be contextualised against improvements in the preceding years, and the effects of the coronavirus lockdowns.

It caused the youth labour market to collapse and had profound impacts on students’ mental health – both of which had a “disproportionate” impact on care-experienced young people, he said.

“There is an attainment gap between care-experienced students, but there are antecedents for that which have their roots in the disruption that most care-experienced students face during their schooling,” he said.

Dr Harrison said research has shown that the attainment gap disappears when prior qualifications are taken into account.

And the OfS figures showed that the continuation rate for care-experienced students – which Dr Harrison said represents the transition of care leavers from first to second year of their degree – rose to 87.1 per cent last year.

Dr Harrison said support from universities was getting better, and without the “volatility” of Covid-19 on the statistics, he expected to see the figures improve.

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