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There have been calls from the Student’s Union for the University to do more to welcome care leavers to Lancaster. Of the approximately 1300 care leavers in Lancashire, only about 1.5% of these are studying at Lancaster, fewer than other local higher education establishments such as University of Cumbria.
There are currently around 92,000 children in care in the UK but only 6% of those go to university. Members of Lancaster University Students’ Union held a forum for care leavers in Week 4 to find out what needs to be done in order to be more supportive and attract more care leavers to Lancaster University.
Care leavers often find coming to university a difficult experience because they lack the same amount of support that many others receive, which can include everything from financial support to having someone to talk to about their future or during exam periods. Lancaster University already has some initiatives in place to attract care leavers to Lancaster and to help them once they get here.
Things that the University does to help care leavers include guaranteed accommodation 365 days of the year as well as offering every care leaver a financial advisor and extra support. Nonetheless, Mia Scott, VP (Welfare & Community), argued that there is still a lot more that can be done to attract care leavers to Lancaster University and to support them, not only through their studies and but also for their future after university.
National Care Leavers week, which took place in October this year, was an opportunity to help get more recognition for care leavers, in Lancaster and nationally. It also helped to spread the word that more needs to be done to help support care leavers as a University, and as students and individuals. As part of Care Leavers’ Week, the Union hosted a Care Leavers’ Forum which was organised and run by Scott to communicate with care leavers who already attend Lancaster University.
Speaking to SCAN shortly after the Care Leavers’ forum Scott said: “As far as we gathered from our care leavers’ forum, and from speaking to different care leavers, the main things that they have trouble with are finances because a lot of care leavers feel they need to save up a lot of money for when they leave university. We could still do a lot more as a university. We should be providing a care leavers’ bursary which is a specific bursary for care leavers, because we are one of the only universities that still don’t offer it.” Scott was particularly keen to emphasise the importance of the care leavers’ bursary. It has been proven to be an excellent way to increase the amount of applications from care leavers because it will ensure a greater level of financial security during their studies.
Scott believes that it is a combination of reasons that results in a lack of care leavers wanting to attend Lancaster. “A lot of care leavers, because they might be in and out of different schools, tend not to get the really high grades that we ask for. So because of this and in addition to a lack of a care leavers’ bursary, Lancaster doesn’t appeal to care leavers as much as others universities might, such as the University of Cumbria, which offers lower grades and a care leavers’ bursary.”
The care leavers that already attend Lancaster were positive towards the idea of introducing a care leavers’ bursary and setting up a peer support group so that they can talk to people who are in similar situations. LUSU are also looking into doing a Care Leavers’ forum each term to help get representation for them within the Students’ Union, so change has already begun to happen at Lancaster with regards to getting more support for care leavers who choose to come to Lancaster.
Scott said: “The main thing I want to stress is that I know, and LUSU know, that every carer has got a different experience. They are not a homogeneous group but they do share some similar experiences and are often in the same situation so it is important that we try to ensure we are considering them in our decision-making processes in LUSU and the University.”