Campaigners protest to make university more accessible to care leavers.

Campaigners Call for Increased University Access for Care Leavers

Campaigners are urging the government to take more significant steps to improve the university enrollment rates for care leavers. Recent data indicates that institutions in London are leading the way in this effort.

Low University Enrollment Rates for Care Leavers

A report commissioned by the children’s charity First Star, conducted by Civitas, has revealed concerning statistics. In the academic year 2021-22, only 14 percent of children who had experienced the care system went on to attend university. In contrast, 47 percent of other young people pursued higher education during the same period.

London Institutions Lead the Way

The University of East London emerged as a frontrunner in the drive to support care leavers’ access to higher education. It topped a newly established league table with 295 care leaver undergraduates out of a total student population of 11,390. Several other London-based institutions, including Kingston University, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, Roehampton University, Goldsmiths College, Birkbeck College, the University of Greenwich, and City University, also ranked among the top 50 in this league table.

Disparities Highlighted

Conversely, Oxford University found itself at the bottom of the league table, with only five care leavers out of 15,685 students.

Calls for Change

Frank Young, research director at Civitas and co-author of the report, emphasized the need to break down barriers for care leavers entering university. He noted that care leavers are still more likely to end up in prison than in a lecture hall. The report draws attention to Department for Education figures indicating that only 550 care leavers under the age of 19 pursued higher education in 2021-22, representing a mere 0.2 percent of students starting undergraduate courses. Care leavers are shown to be only half as likely to attend university compared to children from the poorest fifth of households or those eligible for Free School Meals.

In addition, the report revealed that in 2021-22, a mere 90 care leavers under 19 years old attended one of the top 32 universities in England, comprising just 0.1 percent of new entrants. This figure has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.

Advocating for Change

Campaigners are advocating for change by proposing the publication of an annual league table that evaluates universities’ support for care leavers. Frank Young and Daniel Lilley from Civitas, authors of the report, argue that this first-of-its-kind league table should be followed by subsequent annual publications to gauge the country’s progress. They also call for universities to conduct regular surveys to accurately identify care leavers among their student bodies, acknowledging the inadequacy of the current method of identification through the UCAS form’s tick box.

Scottish-Style Scholarship Scheme Recommended

The Civitas report recommends the establishment of a scholarship scheme similar to the one in Scotland to facilitate care leavers’ access to education.

Long Road Ahead

While education ministers have pledged to reduce the gap between care leavers and non-care leavers in higher education enrollment, Civitas calculates that at the current rate of progress, it would take more than 107 years to achieve this goal.

Controversy Over Figures

Notably, the University of Oxford disputed the reported figure of only five care leavers, asserting that 72 care leavers were accepted between 2019 and 2022. This discrepancy highlights the need for accurate data to address the challenges faced by care leavers in accessing higher education.

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