The government has urged England’s most prestigious universities to admit care leavers with lower entry grades, to provide them with free accommodation, and to cover other costs such as laptops, books and social activities.
New “Higher Education Principles” shaping how higher education institutions should support care leavers, published on 14 March, say that “the most selective providers and those who have the greatest income from higher fees to go the furthest in terms of their support”.
The document says that selective universities should use contextual admissions – special offers with lower grade requirements – in the case of care leavers, “so that their often-disrupted education and personal challenges can be taken in to account”.
It says that support from elite universities could include the “provision of suitable, free accommodation for the full length of the course, including holidays, or an equivalent bursary covering the cost of private accommodation”, and a “bursary of a sufficient amount to cover associated study and student experience costs”. Alongside laptops and books, this could cover social activities, “to support inclusion”.
According to official figures, just 6 per cent of care leavers aged between 19 and 21 enter higher education, and those that do are nearly twice as likely to drop out as their peers.
The new principles say that all universities should target outreach activities at care leavers, and should provide year-round accommodation, “preferably subsidised by the institution”. Universities should also consider covering moving costs, the principles say.
Alongside bursaries, the principles say that universities should designate at least one member of staff to support care leavers, provide a “buddy” system in which care leavers in later years support new arrivals, and lay on tailored careers advice.
Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, said: “Care leavers taking up a place at university face different pressures to their peers, but we are determined to stop them from dropping out due to challenges beyond their control.
“The access and participation work done by universities must ensure all parts of society have fair access, especially for care leavers. But a place at university is only the start and universities must also focus on supporting young people to make the most out of their course and ultimately secure employment in the future.”
Many universities have existing schemes supporting care leavers. Several act as guarantors when care leavers move out of halls and into private rented accommodation.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Universities are committed to working closely with schools and local authorities to increase the number of care leavers attending university and provide them with appropriate support to thrive at university.
“These principles will help universities to build on existing work to provide personal support for care leavers to realise their full potential.”