Posted Tuesday 8 December 2009
Hanna Kebede was forced to leave her home country of Ethiopia at the age of 16. She arrived in London, knowing no one, with few possessions and limited English. Five years later Hanna, 22, is a student at Kingston University in her final year of a computing and business degree. "It hasn't been easy. There's no one at home to tell you to do your work or give you advice."
As a care leaver, Hanna receives guidance and support from her local social services department and from Kingston University but cutting through town hall and university bureaucracy has not been easy. "The hardest thing is knowing where to find the information you need, it can be difficult to know who to turn to," she said.
In spite of the difficulties, Hanna is determined to succeed and wants to study for a higher degree or work for a bank after she graduates next year. She said: "It's great to have the opportunity to go to university, I love it here. It's given me the confidence to try new things and to be creative. I know that when I finish university and start a job I'll be able to work independently as well as with others."
Hanna is exceptional: only a tiny proportion of children who have spent time in local authority care in England, about six per cent, go to university, compared with 43 per cent of all young people.
Kingston University helps care leavers like Hanna by offering advice and support with funding and accommodation as well as offering a £1,000 per year bursary for each year of study. Care leavers are also given priority for places in halls of residence and may be offered flexible entry requirements.
This commitment to care leavers has earned Kingston University plaudits from a leading children's charity, the Frank Buttle Trust, which provides grants to children and young people in need. Kingston was one of the first six universities to be awarded a prestigious Quality Mark by the Trust in 2006. Quality marks are awarded for a period of three years in recognition of higher education institutions that are committed to supporting students who have been in care. Renewing Kingston's award for a further three years, Gerri McAndrew, the Trust's Chief Executive, said: "Kingston's work with care leavers is exemplary. I'm confident that the University's commitment will help more care leavers aspire to and be successful in higher education. It's a great privilege to be working with Kingston to improve the life chances of this group of young adults."
Mike Hill, Kingston University's Director of Academic Development, said of the award: "For care leavers and local authorities it's a guarantee that potential students will be encouraged and supported both when they apply to the University as well as during their time here."
Kingston University has played a pioneering role in trying to encourage more care leavers to study for a degree. Alongside five other universities it helped the Trust to develop the Quality Mark scheme and Kingston is now asked for advice on care leavers by other higher education institutions.
Schoolchildren in care from local councils including Richmond, Kingston and Merton were invited to an open day at Kingston this year and for the last three years the University has hosted a workshop for staff and local authorities on how it can help care leavers.
In 2008/09, 44 students at Kingston received a care leaver's bursary, although the actual number of students who have spent some or all of their childhood in care is likely to be higher. Care leavers are asked to tick a box on the UCAS form but Mr Hill said that some did not feel the need to be identified. He added that the University would like to encourage more care leavers to come forward and emphasised that students' personal details would remain confidential.