Ministers urge universities fund accommodation and equipment for care leavers

Students who leave care should have their accommodation and equipment including laptops paid for by universities, education ministers have said.

England’s top institutions are being called on to do more for care leavers by providing personal support, and money to buy books and join social clubs.

The Department for Education (DfE) says 6% of care leavers aged 19-21 go into higher education, and those that do are nearly twice as likely to drop out as their peers.

Universities minister Chris Skidmore and children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi are calling for a shift in culture at universities to welcome care leavers and provide wraparound support.

New Higher Education Principles published on Thursday set out how universities – especially the most selective and best-resourced – should provide personal support through buddy systems as well as giving students money for course materials and to fully experience student life.

Mr Zahawi said: “These principles are important in creating a culture shift for all universities.

“They set out clearly what we expect from them in helping young people leaving care to start higher education, and call on them to extend the kinds of practical and personal support that will make a challenging transition less overwhelming.”

The most selective universities are being asked to set a high bar, providing free accommodation and bursaries to cover study and student experience costs.

Support could also include subsidised and year-round accommodation, as those leaving care may not have the same family networks or anywhere to stay during the holidays.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said: “Many universities are now targeting care leavers within their plans and have made commitments to improve their support during the coming years.

“But more can and should be done, so we are pleased to see an increased focus on looked-after children in our recent strategic guidance from the Secretary of State for Education, and we welcome the Department for Education’s new guidance to universities.”

The principles set out a number of matters that should be addressed in offers to care leavers.

These include:

  • Outreach and local authority relationships
  • Accommodation support
  • Financial support
  • A designated member of staff for care leavers
  • Encouraging and facilitating support networks
  • Careers advice

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s leading universities, said: “It is vital that universities take a strategic and holistic approach to supporting care leavers, to ensure that they not only enter higher education, but thrive within it.”

Adding that Russell Group institutions already offer a variety of initiatives for care leavers, Dr Bradshaw continued: “Our members are determined to improve outcomes for care leavers and the statement of principles issued by the Government today should help support them in achieving this aim.”

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