The Unite Foundation partnered with UCAS on their recent ‘Next Steps Report’ which shines a light on the potential and ambition of young people leaving care and the challenges they can face when exploring university options.
Global Law student and Unite Foundation scholarship recipient Lisa reflects on her experiences in higher education opens and discusses why university represents such an important and transformative opportunity for care experienced and estranged students.
I am a first-year undergraduate Global Law student at Queen Mary University of London. I wanted to study Law because from a young age it became apparent to me that I wanted to be an advocate for change in the criminal justice system and protect the rights of young victims of crime. I know from my own experiences that there is huge room for improvement in helping those who are silenced tell their unique story in a way they feel comfortable to do so, and in improving the system to respond and facilitate this.
Although my secondary school years are not my fondest of memories, I did have one passion which saw me through and that was languages. During the difficult periods, I would distract myself by studying. I envisioned each book as a metaphorical building block for my future life. I am a firm believer that every cloud has a silver lining. By the end of secondary school, I had taught myself seven languages. This made me realise that we should never judge somebody’s future success on their past but instead look forward and encourage everyone to aspire to their maximum potential.
Applying for university does not depend on grades alone. I came out of sixth form with four A*s and an A but still found the process overwhelming. Even for those students who are proactive and come across as confident, choosing a university is a big decision especially for care experienced and estranged students. I wanted somebody to sit with me and talk me through the options I had because it is such an important step not only for our careers but also for us as individuals.
I didn’t have anyone to ask or support me, so I took it upon myself to do all the research.
The information I found was fragmented. It became too stressful and overwhelming and so I decided to take a year out and do part-time work alongside a college diploma in Psychology and Counselling. But I knew I wanted to go to university and so I reached out for help at my college. They introduced me to the Unite Foundation amongst other charities and services that could help me navigate my way to university. I was very close to dropping my university ambitions because I was simply unaware of all the extra support.
Finding support is difficult: some people receive information clearly whilst others do not. All information needs to be available and accessible to every care leaver no matter where they are from.
Prior to coming to university, I was allocated a named advisor at Queen Mary’s who helped me with any questions I had. This made the transition a lot easier knowing that there was a member of staff that I could go to if I needed advice.
As a care experienced or estranged student – or independent as l like to call it – it’s not uncommon to find yourself having to explain your private matters to every student finance officer in England! Calls being redirected to different departments and general systemic confusion are frequent. Students do not need that extra pressure and stress. I am very glad that my advisor at Queen Mary’s and I set up a Consent to Share so that I would no longer have to deal with the additional stress.
My advisor has also supported me with finance and budgeting showing me which bursaries and scholarships I could apply for. This has helped me immensely as I am now able to access long-term therapy which was previously not an option. I believe that my horizons have broadened considerably since receiving the support from Queen Mary’s because I am able to focus on my studies as well as building peer groups and maintaining good physical and mental health.
If I could encourage all universities and higher education providers to do three things to support independent students, they would be:
- Meet with a named advisor before coming to university and maintain that relationship throughout the student’s academic journey.
- Check in with every independent student because they will appreciate knowing that you are there even if they do not explicitly tell you so.
- Create a welcome pack designed for independent students with all the relevant support information – financial and wider – making it easy to access information.
Explore our blogs on care leavers and estranged students:
- Buttle UK, ‘Choosing between earning and learning: a new report on the experiences of estranged students in higher education’, HEPI blog, 22 November 2022.
- Unite Foundation’s Ira Hakim and a group of students and recent graduates who are care experienced and/ or estranged from their families, ‘Community – a lifeline for care experienced and estranged students’, HEPI blog, 25 October 2022.
- Fiona Ellison, ‘Supporting care leavers and estranged students in higher education’, HEPI blog, 11 October 2022.
- Nyomi Rose, ‘A life-changing scholarship for care leavers and estranged students’, HEPI blog, 29 June 2022.
Other HEPI publications on care leavers and estranged students:
- Sasha Roseneil, ‘Postcodes or personal experience? How best to encourage members of under-represented groups to apply to university’, HEPI blog, 23 September 2022.
- Fiona Ellison, ‘Creating an inclusive and sustainable future for estranged and care experienced university students’, HEPI blog, 26 November 2021.
- Eluned Parrott, ‘How the shutdown of the student economy is hitting the finances, health and educational prospects of care leavers and estranged students’, HEPI blog, 11 May 2020.
- Eluned Parrott, ‘Study from home? What if you don’t have a home?’, HEPI blog, 18 March 2020.
- Steven Spier, ‘Supporting students leaving care’, HEPI blog, 10 May 2019.
- Chloë Cockett, ‘New Insights on WP: Care leavers and their paths to higher education’, HEPI blog, 18 August 2017.