Posted Thursday 14 March 2019
Two Government Ministers have praised Kingston University for its sector-leading work helping students who are care leavers or estranged from their families move on to higher education and get the opportunity to complete a degree.
In a visit coinciding with the launch of new Government guidelines encouraging universities to take a more active role supporting students from care backgrounds, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore and Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi highlighted the importance of Kingston University's pioneering work in the area.
In his second trip to Kingston University since taking up post, Mr Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood, joined Mr Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, at a roundtable session with students supported through the KU Cares programme. The Ministers used the opportunity to learn more about the particular challenges and disruption most young people from care backgrounds faced progressing through the education system.
Mr Skidmore said universities across the country could learn much from Kingston University's "exemplary work" and its commitment to working closely with students who had the potential to complete a degree, irrespective of their start in life. The University's KU Cares programme offers a range of dedicated support for learners who have experience of the care system, those who are estranged from their families and young adult carers – including help with finance, accommodation and personal wellbeing.
"I have been deeply impressed by everything I've observed about the work Kingston University does to support care leavers, so it was particularly important to me to have an opportunity to meet students to hear for myself about some of the issues young people like them face and get their views on the measures we must encourage more universities to implement," Mr Skidmore said.
With 230 undergraduates currently in the KU Cares network, Kingston University is responsible for one of the country's largest groups of students with experience of the care system. The effectiveness of the package of support it offers saw 100 per cent of Kingston's care-experienced or estranged students remain engaged with their studies during 2017-18. The figure bucks a sector trend where research has found care leavers are generally over a third more likely to withdraw from higher education than their peers.
Second year social work undergraduate Zoe, who left the care system several years ago, said she had jumped at the chance to speak directly to the Ministers about the policies and legislation that affected young people who found themselves in a similar position. "There's a lot of work to do in this area and the more the government is told, hopefully the more support will improve to help care leavers and care-experienced people get to university and overcome the hurdles they face," she added.
In addition to individually tailored work with care leavers, Kingston University each year offers four bursaries to asylum seekers. Known as Sanctuary Scholarships, these were developed in partnership with the Helena Kennedy Foundation Article 26 project. Sanctuary scholar Lola, who is in the first year of her degree studies, said a university education would not have been a possibility for her if it had not been for the additional support she had received. "Kingston University has proved that no matter what background you come from, it's possible to attend university and do well," she added.
Mr Zahawi urged more universities to follow Kingston's lead, pointing to the fact only six per cent of care leavers aged from 19 to 21 currently progressed on to higher education, with approximately half that number dropping out before completing their degrees.
That was why the principles the government had just published to guide the sector on improving care leavers' access and participation in higher education would prove so important, he added. "Kingston University has developed a programme where student care leavers get support from application to graduation. We want to see other universities doing the same and supporting care leavers much more directly and fully," he said.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier said it was particularly important to him that the Ministers heard directly from students with experience of the care system to ensure future policy addressed the unique challenges they faced. "Our students are a very powerful voice – they are incredibly motivated and have come here against all the odds. The Ministers expressed how important it was that they were able to hear their moving stories first hand and learn more about what was required to provide the specialist support they need," he said.
"Young people with experience of the care system make an important contribution to the diverse student body and rich learning environment of which we are so proud. They demonstrate the enormous difference universities like Kingston can – and should – make encouraging all students, whatever their start in life, to achieve their true potential and to go on to make a positive impact in society."
The University's commitment to supporting care leavers has been further cited as an example of best practice in a piece penned by Mr Skidmore for leading sector publication Times Higher Education. "Kingston University is leading the way through its KU Cares team in supporting students who have been in care throughout their time at university and beyond," he wrote. "The University offers care leavers a bursary per progressive year of study, a designated member of support staff to advocate on their behalf and signpost opportunities, plus a generous graduation package at the end of their degree to help them celebrate their achievements.
"Initiatives like this are just a small part of a university's day-to-day life, but they can make a big difference to the prospects of some of the most vulnerable young people in our society."