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Scotland will guarantee university places for care experienced people

The scheme is the first of its kind in the UK

Care leavers are to be promised undergraduate places at Scottish universities in the first initiative of its kind in the UK.

In a bid to drive up the numbers going into higher education, all 18 of Scotland’s higher education institutions committed to guaranteeing an offer for all care leavers who meet minimum entry requirements, with no upper age limit. Earlier this year the sector opted to lower those requirements for applications from care experienced people and those living in the most deprived 20 per cent of the country.

The scheme will be in place in time for the next admissions cycle, starting this autumn for people looking to start university in autumn next year.

The guarantee was announced at an event at Glasgow Caledonian University attended by staff from other institutions, a number of care experienced people and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said she “warmly welcome[d]” the initiative.

She added: “Education is by far the most effective means we have of improving the life chances of our young people. I am firmly committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring that all learners, regardless of their background, have an equal chance of entering university.

“It is important that every young person has access to the learning that will provide them with the skills and qualifications they need to meet their aspirations and succeed in life.”

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The initiative was described as a step towards tackling the “often very challenging circumstances” facing care leavers who want qualifications and the “causal link that is known to exist between lived experience of care and educational attainment”.

At the moment only four per cent of care experienced school leavers go directly into college or university compared to 62 per cent of all school leavers.

Just 335 care experienced people started at a Scottish university in 2016-17 – only 0.5 per cent of all entrants to university that year, despite children in care making up two per cent of all children in the country.

Duncan Dunlop, CEO of Who Cares? Scotland, said the scheme is a positive step that is most likely to be effective if efforts are also made to signpost university as a real option for care leavers and support them through the application process.

He added that the move “recognises that the barriers care experienced people face to accessing higher education can be felt lifelong”.

“The fact that the guaranteed offer has no upper age limit demonstrates a commitment by universities to seek out ways to support care experienced learners beyond the statutory requirement of age 26.”

The new guarantee will apply to anyone who is in care or has been at any stage of their life, regardless of duration, including adopted children who were previously looked after.

The announcement coincided with the release of a report showing that nearly three quarters (72 per cent) per cent of UK students think a person’s background should be taken into account when universities consider their application.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) research found that even more – 73 per cent – agreed it was harder to achieve good exam results when growing up in a disadvantaged area. This rose to 81 per cent at Russell Group universities.

Hepi policy officer Hugo Dale-Harris said: “These results demonstrate for the first time that most students recognise educational inequalities and want universities to address them.”

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