Freshers’ week is past and university campuses across Scotland have welcomed new faces. Parents have dropped off their children at residences and now wonder when their washing will be brought home.
This cliché is not the same picture for all students, though. For some who have been in care, getting into university can be much trickier than traipsing round open days and completing a Ucas application. While most students have financial concerns, a young person from care may need year-round accommodation, have a limited support structure and worry about how much of their background to divulge to fellow students and tutors.
The proportion of Scottish school leavers who have experience of care and go on to higher education is stark: official data tells us it is only 6 per cent. Shocking really, compared with the 40 per cent of all school leavers progressing to university courses.
This figure belies the full picture: it is taken from a survey of pupils enrolled at university three months after leaving school. A more complex picture of this 'going to university gap' between students with care experience and their peers emerges with more analysis.
People who have been in care go to higher or further education but their route is often less direct. Many go to college first, some go to university after a break from education — from choice or forced on them by challenges in life. If going on to further study coincides with leaving care — still the case for too many — life will be very different from friends’ experience.
Support for students in Scotland who have been in care has improved. Colleges and universities must have credible plans to encourage applications, and provide on-course support. A bursary of £8,100 is available to such students under 26. At the University of Strathclyde, where I work, we have a mentoring scheme to pair students with staff to help them to navigate university life.
Accessing support means declaring your care identity on applications and at enrolment. This is not an easy decision and there are many reasons not to disclose details. It is a pain to keep re-telling your story. Can you be sure disclosure will not affect selection or progress? Statistics tell a partial story. We need to celebrate the achievements and potential of young people who grow up in care. They are our children too.
If you have been in care and are thinking about going to college or university, the Propel website can help.
Dr Graham Connelly is Educational Programme Adviser at CELCIS.