Guaranteed university place for care leavers

The proportion of care-experienced school leavers going straight to university is significantly below that for all leavers

Second FE college rejected by Office for Students, the independent higher education regulator

Scotland’s universities have committed to giving care-experienced applicants a guaranteed undergraduate place, as long as they meet the minimum entry requirements.

The promise, announced today, will apply from the next admissions cycle for those looking to start university in 2020, which starts this autumn. According to the 18 universities, the move is aimed at driving a significant increase in the number of care experienced people going to university.


Background: Care leavers 'struggle to cope financially'

More on this: Care leavers need more support, says NUS Scotland

Watch: ‘Do not underestimate care-experienced children’


Significant competition

Currently, there is significant competition for undergraduate places at Scotland’s universities, which means that, typically, institutions are not able to offer places to all applicants who meet standard entry requirements. According to umbrella body Universities Scotland, the average offer rate for applications to study at university from Scottish domiciled applicants is between 50 and 55 per cent, which means only half of applications are likely to result in an offer.

There is a gap in the educational attainment of people with experience of care which means that 12 per cent of looked after school-leavers achieve at least one Higher or equivalent qualification, compared to 62 per cent of all school leavers. At the moment, only 4 per cent of looked after school leavers go directly into higher education, compared to 41 per cent of all school leavers.

Universities’ decision to guarantee an offer to care-experienced students who do meet the requirement is supported by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon. She said: “Education is by far the most effective means we have of improving the life chances of our young people. 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.”

And Professor Pamela Gillies, principal of Glasgow Caledonian University said the announcement demonstrated that universities across Scotland recognise the importance of those who have had an experience of care and the huge potential they have.”

Professor Sally Mapstone, principal of the University of St Andrews said: “This is a decisive and, I hope, catalytic step jointly taken by Scotland’s universities. 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.

“We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported. It is important that all of Scotland’s universities have made this 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.

“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.”

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “This is a very welcome move from Universities Scotland. 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. 

“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.”

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