How Can Universities Support Care Leavers?

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We spoke to The University of East London to find out how they support and empower young people from care experienced backgrounds.


‘Breaking the Care Ceiling’ Report

In 2023, we commissioned a report entitled ‘Breaking the Care Ceiling’ to better understand the experiences of care leavers in higher education. With support from the charity First Star Scholarship UK, the report was put together by the think tank Civitas, with input from across the political spectrum. It received national attention and helped raise awareness of the main issues facing care experienced students as well as broadening the national debate about educational inequalities.

University often represents a pivotal stage in a young person’s life, yet the report found a significant gap in participation between care leavers and their peers: approximately 14% of care leavers go to university compared to 47% of young people who have never been in care. This disparity underscores the need for more targeted support to break down the structural barriers that prevent care experienced young people from accessing higher education.

The University of East London

Whilst young people who have spent time in the care system face additional barriers that can impact their access and success in higher education, some universities are leading the way in taking down those barriers. The University of East London (UEL) has had great success in creating a socially inclusive environment for care leavers and is ranked highest on the Care Leavers in Higher Education League Table. This is reflected in 1 in 39 undergraduate students at UEL having had experience in care.

UEL students can sign up to the Care Leaver Covenant which provides additional support for those leaving care. The university goes beyond the statutory provisions by offering specialised support that directly targets care leavers’ needs in higher education. Their ongoing commitment to inclusivity provides an excellent case study into how universities can overcome the inequalities that exist at every level of a student’s journey.

Four Ways to Support Care Leavers

We spoke to UEL to find out how they help create a more level playing field for care experienced students. Here’s what we learned:

1. Financial Support

Care experienced students can receive financial support of up to £1,500 a year through the Young Independent Students Bursary. By easing the financial burden of university, care leavers have more time to focus on their studies and overall wellbeing. They have also awarded over 100 Graduate bursaries over the last three years to reduce financial pressures on students who have completed their programme of study.

“The bursary allowed me to focus on my studies and not overwork myself, giving me a chance to complete my assignments and be able to attend classes.” – Bursary Recipient

2. Pre-entry Programmes

By building strong partnerships with local schools, UEL prioritises care leavers during their pre-entry programmes such as taster days and information sessions. Once enrolled, Student Services (Residential Life & SMART) facilitate a smooth transition into university life and provide care packages to residential students, which include kitchen utensils, bedding, and cleaning products.

3. Young Independent Students Team

The Young Independent Students Team lead several initiatives that are designed to support care experienced students. The support offered includes:

Attendance Checks: Attendance is monitored weekly to make it easier to identify care leavers students that might need additional support.

Named points of contacts: Care leaver students are given named points of contact within the team to help them navigate through their studies.

Drop-in advisory sessions: Weekly advice sessions, specifically for care leavers, are available to book as either on-campus or telephone appointments.

Summer support fund: A one-off payment to contribute towards costs incurred over the summer break, is often given to students who are continuing their studies in the next academic year.

Partnership with Care Tech: Annual scholarships and employment opportunities are offered to care leavers studying within health and social care backgrounds.

“They offer helpful and friendly advisors who make you feel seen and heard, they are understanding. They provide a wealth of information and help for what happens after you leave.” – Care Experienced Student

4. Widening Participation Ambassadors

UEL also provides employment opportunities for care experienced students through the Widening Participation Ambassador scheme. Care experienced students are automatically short listed for an interview for the position. This helps to upskill care experienced young people and allows them to share their expenses with other students.

Professor Amanda Broderick, Vice-Chancellor & President at the University of East London, said: “Diversity and inclusion have always been central to our mission, because while talent is distributed everywhere, opportunity is still not. By offering tailored support to care experienced students, we strive to level the playing field, ensuring that all students have equal opportunities to succeed and benefit from the transformative impact of higher education. This commitment is not only a moral imperative but also a crucial aspect of providing a socially just education, where everyone is empowered to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society. We are proud to be the UK’s most socially inclusive university, and even prouder of what we see our students achieve, particularly those that have overcome significant challenges to do so. I would urge universities everywhere to look at how they can unlock the potential of care experienced students, and help let their talent shine.”


As a long-term partner of UEL, we’re inspired by their holistic approach to supporting care experienced students. With many government targets around care leavers remaining unmet, it’s vital that universities provide targeted interventions so every student can succeed and reach their full potential, no matter challenges they’ve faced and are still facing. We hope more universities take action to make higher education more inclusive for care experienced young people.