Care-experienced university applicants to be given ‘guaranteed offer’

Written by Emily Woods on 25 July 2019 in News

Scottish universities collectively commit to boost the number of looked-after university students

Image credit: Chris Radburn/PA

Scotland’s 18 universities have today committed to giving care-experienced university applicants a “guaranteed” undergraduate offer, if they meet minimum entry requirements.

The guarantee is part of a collective push among universities to boost the number of looked-after students in higher education, due to a significant gap in the educational attainment.

Figures released in June revealed less than five per cent of care-experienced children went into higher education after leaving school – compared with 41 per cent of all school leavers.

The Scottish universities have agreed to define care-experienced as “anyone who has been, or is currently in care, or from a looked-after background at any stage of their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked-after”, with no age restrictions.

The universities said it was important to recognise “the context in which care-experienced applicants have achieved the entry qualifications needed for university”.

University of St Andrews principal Professor Sally Mapstone said she hoped the commitment would encourage more looked-after people to “feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported”.

“This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities,” Mapstone said.

“It gives due recognition to the substantial achievement of people with experience of care who are successful in getting the grades for university having overcome very challenging circumstances at a young age.”

She said it was important that all of Scotland’s universities made the guarantee together.

“That should provide the greatest possible clarity and visibility of this change to people with care-experience wherever they live in Scotland and wherever they want to study,” Mapstone said.

“We’re not aware that any other university sector guarantee offers to care-experienced learners in this way, and we hope it contributes to the Independent Care Review’s ambition of making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.”

Who Cares? Scotland chief executive Duncan Dunlop said the guarantee recognised the barriers care-experienced people faced in accessing higher education.

“The fact that the guaranteed offer has no upper age limit demonstrates a commitment by universities to seek out ways to support care-experienced learners beyond the statutory requirement of age 26,” he said.

Dunlop said the success of the offer would “not solely lie with individual institutions doing the right thing by care-experienced people”.

“It will require a whole sector approach that sees corporate parents understanding the guaranteed offer, signposting university as a valid option and supporting care-experienced people through the process to apply and succeed,” he said.

The announcement was made during a Glasgow Caledonian University event today, with support from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the principals of Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of St Andrews.

Sturgeon “warmly” welcomed the universities’ collective commitment.

“Education is by far the most effective means we have of improving the life chances of our young people,” Sturgeon said.

“I am firmly committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring that all learners, regardless of their background, have an equal chance of entering university.

“It is important that every young person has access to the learning that will provide them with the skills and qualifications they need to meet their aspirations and succeed in life.”

The guarantee comes after universities agreed to set new minimum entry requirements earlier this year, which will apply to care-experienced applicants and those living within the most deprived 20 per cent of Scotland.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “Far more must be done to ensure equality of access to university for care-experienced young people.”

“Only 4.5 per cent of care-experienced school leavers went into higher education last year – and the government doesn’t even know how many of these were at university,” Gray said.

“Ministers must now also step up to the plate and raise the Care Experienced Student Bursary to match the living wage to ensure all the support that is needed is there for these young people during their studies.”

Scotland has 19 universities, however the commitment does not include Open University in Scotland, "as it does not have conventional entry requirements like other universities and so does not need to take this step to support access".

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