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Access to university for all

Supporting students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education

Published: 28 October 2020

Southampton Spotlight shines a light on the impact our University is having across the world,  through the achievements of the individuals that make up our community.

There are approximately 99,000 children in care in the UK and over 10,000 young people leave the care system every year. It is estimated that only 12 per cent of care leavers go to university and that half of those consider quitting due to a mix of health problems, money worries, high workloads and personal and family issues.

Creating an environment where all students belong

National Care Leavers Week 2020 is an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the successes of care leavers from across the UK, and to inspire them to achieve their full potential. At Southampton, we strive to create an environment where all students, regardless of their background, can belong and achieve their goals. We believe everyone has a positive contribution to make, and given the right support, can change the world for the better.

David Munn, from the Student Inclusion Team at the University, explains that Southampton has a long history of supporting care leavers.

We were one of the first institutions to receive the Buttle UK quality mark in 2007/08 for the support we provide to care leavers. The support package currently in place at the University allows the students to access as much or as little as they need when they need it.

David Munn - Student Inclusion Team

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ model in terms of supporting students who have experienced care, but by working in partnership with them, we aim to deliver an inclusive and welcoming student experience from application to graduation.” 

One Southampton student who has experienced being in care, is very positive about the support he has received from the University:

“I have been in care since the age of 16. It's been a difficult journey getting onto an engineering course at university, but once I arrived the Student Inclusion Team has made my experience awesome to say the least,” says Ben (BEng Aeronautics and Astronautics, second year).

“David and his team have been nothing but helpful ever since I arrived, from arranging bus passes to just being there for a chat if I need something. I am extremely grateful to them for everything they've done. They are kind, welcoming and friendly, and to be honest that's all I could ask for,” he adds.

Combatting loneliness

A major challenge for care leavers in higher education is feeling alone and isolated. As part of the support available at Southampton, care leavers can contact David for one-to-one support as well as the Students’ Union Advice Centre.

“As part of our support package, we can ensure care leavers have somewhere safe to live throughout the entire calendar year in halls of residence, not just the academic one, as many do not have a parental home to return to over the vacation periods,” says David.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the University also provided wellbeing packs to help combat isolation and loneliness. These included: an Amazon Echo Dot so the free mental health, fitness and time management apps could be accessed, and e-vouchers for food delivery to enable those self-isolating or shielding to get essential supplies.

“We also provided students with the opportunity to have their summer bursary instalment paid early as they had been unable to work during lockdown,” David adds. To support them financially, the University offers up to £4,000 of non-repayable bursaries each academic year for eligible undergraduates.

Raising awareness of the issues facing care leavers in higher education

At Southampton, it’s not just about supporting care leavers during their studies; it’s about educating people on what it means to be a care leaver in higher education.

On 26 October 2020, a panel event with Kirsty McQueen from the Care Leavers Covenant, David, and a current care leaver studying at the University, took place to raise awareness of the issues care leavers face with the aim of ending associated stigmas.

Southampton PhD student Rosie Canning, whose research focuses on care leavers in literature, is also launching an online exhibition, A Portrait of Care.

By using portraits, the aim is to de-stigmatise the experience of care. You cannot tell from a photograph a person’s care experience.

Rosie Canning - PhD English

“We hope that those with care experience, those that work with children in care, and care leavers will take part.”

Due to the negative connotations often associated with being ‘looked-after’, almost every care-experienced person has encountered discrimination at one point in their lives because of their background. A Portrait of Care aims to improve perceptions and general public awareness of those who are care experienced.

Find out more about University support for Care Leavers.

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