Education expert warns of threat to 'care home students'

Changes to the university funding regime will bring an “abrupt halt” to improvements in the number of young people in care who go on to university, an education expert has warned.

September 2, 2011

The number of care leavers entering higher education has increased from around one in 100 in 2003 to nearly one in 10 today, but Sonia Jackson, professor of social studies and education at the Institute of Education, fears this progress will falter from 2012.

“Local authorities are having to implement drastic spending cuts and will struggle to offer care-leavers as much financial and personal support as they have in recent years,” she said.

“Higher tuition fees will also be a deterrent because young people with no family to fall back on are very frightened of getting into debt even though they won't have to make repayments until they are earning a decent salary.”

In a study published in 2005, By Degrees: From care to university, Professor Jackson made recommendations on how to students entering higher education from the care system. It found that the ability of these students tended to be underestimated and that they were being deprived of educational opportunities open to other teenagers.

A new report on the impact of Professor Jackson’s original study, published this week, shows the extent of its influence on local and central government policy and universities’ provision for care leavers.

The 2005 report prompted a change to the Children Act 1989, this week’s analysis says, paving the way for bursaries of £2,000 for care leavers going on to university.

However, Professor Jackson expressed doubts about whether this bursary would be enough to support the students in light of the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year.

“Higher education students without family support now need at least £5,000 a year,” she said.

“If they have a constant struggle to keep their heads above water they risk getting exhausted and dropping out.”

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