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Benefits of staying on at university by Professor Wendy Thomson

  • 20 February 2023
  • By Professor Wendy Thomson CBE

This guest blog has been kindly written for HEPI by Professor Wendy Thomson CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of London.

Starting university can be daunting.

Even more so for those who face additional barriers to accessing higher education. For students who are care experienced or are estranged from their families, there’s more to consider than just getting the right grades – access to the right support, both practical and emotional, is key to making the best plans for their future. 

A vital part of this is access to stable, safe and full-year accommodation.  Having a secure home provides a sense of security, community and support that cannot be underestimated, especially for students who have lived in care or are estranged from their family.

We know that students who are care leavers are less likely to continue into the second year of their course. The Office for Students found that the continuation rate of care leavers was 5.6 percentage points lower than that for students who have not been in care. It is a similar parallel for the percentage of students graduating with ‘good’ degrees, that is achieving a First or 2:1.

Providing a home at university for care experienced and estranged students create a solid foundation for experiencing all the great things higher education has to offer. In their ten-year review, the Unite Foundation found that students who received a Unite Foundation scholarship progressed from their first to the second year of university at the same percentage as non-care leavers. The same report also revealed that care leaver students who had guaranteed accommodation throughout their degrees, graduate with similar degree classifications as those who were non-care leavers.

Care experienced and estranged students are already hugely underrepresented in higher education – according to the Office for Students, ‘In 2018-19 only 13 per cent of pupils who were looked after continuously for 12 months or more entered higher education by age 19, compared with 43 per cent of all other pupils.’ This should not be the case. Universities have a responsibility to give students the right support so they can reach their full potential.

This is why I’m so delighted to be able to announce our forthcoming partnership with the Unite Foundation and The Portal Trust to enable students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the University of London. This agreement will enable us to support three years’ worth of scholarships for care leaver or those estranged from their families in our halls of residence. This will bolster the University of London Scholars programme, adding a further £185,000 over the next three years.

We currently have nine care-experienced or estranged students in our halls who are being supported by this programme, and this latest partnership will allow us to give this opportunity to another 12 each year.  All the students will be able to live onsite all year round, providing them with essential security at a time when they need it most. They will also receive support towards food, heating, and other costs. These are small steps, but vital ones to support those who do not have as many options and opportunities open to them as some. 

Hopefully, this added support will encourage more people to dive headfirst into the transformative world of education and make the most of every opportunity it can deliver. 

Explore our other blogs on care leavers and estranged students:

Other HEPI publications on care leavers and estranged students:

1 comment

  1. albert wright says:

    It is good to hear about the progress being made on this issue and in particular, the evidence that with security of accommodation, this group of students can close the attainment gap.

    However, I am concerned about 3 issues:
    i) What additional cost is involved ?
    II) Is this the right focus for investment, how does it rank against other types of investment ?
    iii) How should we rank the different calls for support?

    The fact that ‘In 2018-19 only 13 per cent of pupils who were looked after continuously for 12 months or more entered higher education by age 19, compared with 43 per cent of all other pupils.’ does not lead me to the conclusion “This should not be the case.”

    We must recognise that numeric parity for every different group is not the right basis for a sustainable University sector. There are already more applications than there are places. Choices need to be made, criteria need to be decided to help choose who gets a place and who does not.

    It is not necessarily fair, equitable or appropriate to single out specific individuals from specific disadvantaged groups to win the prize at the expense of others in exactly the same situation.

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