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How many care leavers are there in Lancashire? And how many make it to Lancaster University? Both two very interesting questions, and both with two very worrying answers. There are currently 1300 care leavers in Lancashire, and of those only 20 or so have made it to Lancaster University. That is a hit rate of 1.5%. It’s a problem, and a problem we need to be addressing. This is fundamentally a demographic that we haven’t been talking about and haven’t been trying to make the case for. This has to change.
The particular circumstances for care leavers can make for grim reading. Care leavers are statistically more likely to suffer from mental health problems than non-care leavers and retention is a particularly pertinent issue; who could really say if they potentially had an unsettled home life looming over their shoulder that it wouldn’t affect their studies? I certainly can’t.
And the list of barriers these students can face is endless: issues getting ID, trouble securing housing and accommodation, difficulties with financial support… All of these can and do crop up and are difficult and, at times, embarrassing to deal with.
That’s not the kind of society I want to live in, and it most definitely isn’t the sort of university I want to be part of. As a community, I want Lancaster to be the sort of socially progressive, fair and inclusive university that allows everyone to thrive regardless of who they are or where they’ve come from. Lancaster University should be about providing the best and widest ranging opportunities for all of our students, regardless of personal circumstance. We need to challenge the status quo.
We need to be a university that focuses on our futures, not our pasts. We need to be a university that creates a sense of belonging and challenges a sense of distance. We need to be a university that doesn’t build up barriers but breaks down stigmas.
Let me say now, Lancaster University Students’ Union is committed to a future free from discrimination and disadvantage.
We want the university to commit to providing a bursary to students leaving care, and we want to ensure we’re reaching out to these people. The fact that Lancashire has the largest single group of care leavers and yet we’re reaching out to only 1.5% of them and allowing their potential to flow away is a disgrace. It’s not a case of students leaving Lancashire or them not wanting to be recruited by us; UCLan has a much higher proportion of care leavers than us so to me that says it’s us doing something wrong.
Lancaster, to me, is a university that is meant to be engaging progressively with students and focussing on their abilities and potential and not circumstances. We need to make a commitment to that and work harder to make Lancaster fully accessible to care leavers.
I want to take action on this and I want to gain your feedback and support to help me do that. On Tuesday Week 4 I will be in Faraday Seminar Room 3 at 6pm hoping to speak to people who experience leaving care and coming to university so that we can begin to come up with and look to implement an action plan to make sure we take your issues seriously. If you are a care leaver, please come down and help inform our work. We want to make a difference to the lives of people who could be overlooked by the higher education sector and who would really benefit from Lancaster University engaging with them and I’ll need your help to do that.