The Office for Students has called on universities in England to provide more support to students that have been in care because Covid-19 may exacerbate inequalities for students without family support.
The call to improve was necessary because universities are not consistent in their approach to these students, the regulator said. Data shows students in this group are much more likely not to continue to a second year, to take longer than three years to complete their degree, and not to gain a 2:1 or First.
More data on these students is needed, the OfS proposed, to better understand their outcomes after higher education. It said it would work with the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) to expand the data record “to capture a broader group of applicants with experience of care, and splitting it into a number of subcategories”.
We know that the proportion of care experienced students entering into higher education remains substantially lower than their rest of the population, and our data shows that they continue to face barriers even once they get there
– Chris Millward, OfS
The regulator said it would work alongside the Centre for Transforming Access and Outcomes in higher education to improve effective practice. It has commissioned the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers to make recommendations on how the sector should improve. Year-round accommodation, priority access to pastoral and financial support, contextual admissions processes and continued support after graduation are among the suggestions.
The OfS said some universities offer training for foster carers, children’s home support workers and personal advisors, fund transport for open days and interviews and provide bursaries between studies and full-time employment.
Bryony Toon, a law student at the University of Oxford who experienced care, said: “There needs to be information and support for students who have been in care that is consistent across universities and colleges. There is support available like bursaries and access schemes, but universities need to make sure students know about them. I have been lucky with my university in terms of financial support, but I have friends who have not been so well supported.”
Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation, said: “While there are a number of excellent examples of support for students who have been in care, our analysis is still showing stark disparities in outcomes for this group. We know that the proportion of care experienced students entering into higher education remains substantially lower than their rest of the population, and our data shows that they continue to face barriers even once they get there.
“To mitigate this, we are calling for a consistent approach to support across the sector. Higher education is a transformative experience, and universities and colleges must do all they can to ensure that it is accessible for all.”