Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Cumbria University offers care leavers a helping hand into higher education

Hannah Pears, Tamsin Rogers and Melanie Bakey
all of the University of Cumbria
at the NEON awards ceremony at Westminster Palace

The University of Cumbria has won a National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) Award for supporting young people who have been placed in the care of their local authority to go to university.

The awards celebrate success in widening access to higher education (HE).

In 2010 there was only one care leaver enrolled on a programme at the university. Now, since introducing a number of supportive activities, there are 56 care leavers on courses this academic year (2014/2015).

Hannah Pears, Widening Participation Access Officer, together with Melanie Bakey, Widening Participation Retention Officer at the University of Cumbria, masterminded the scheme which also last year achieved a Buttle UK Quality Mark in recognition of its commitment to young people in and leaving care.

Hannah Pears said this about it, “Here at the university we care deeply about equality and inclusivity and want to ensure that students from different social backgrounds are not discouraged from going to university if they want to. Young people who had been in care were an under-represented group in the student body and so we set about finding ways to support more of them to study with us. We are proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in such a short space of time and are delighted that our hard work has been recognised at a national level.”

The university takes a two-pronged approach to encourage more care leavers to progress into higher education including providing unique support and training to the wider care community as well as supporting the care leavers, from initial enquiry right through to graduation.

Hannah and Melanie pioneered their innovative approach by working directly with foster carers and social workers and it is this approach which they believe led to such a marked increase in the number of care-leavers coming to the University of Cumbria to study.

Melanie Bakey continued “We feel our unique approach has offered care leavers an opportunity to see university as an option and not something to be instantly dismissed or feared”.

Foster carers and social workers across Cumbria and Lancashire are offered training on how young care leavers can progress through higher education system and the support available to them.

The care leavers are reached through working with community outreach organisations such as Barnardos, Whitehaven Youth Harbour Project and the National Youth Advocacy Services.

In addition, information and guidance are offered on a dedicated web page which acts as a main point of contact. The young care leavers are assigned a mentor who is an existing student who has also been in care and they get specially extended sessions with the university’s ‘money doctors’ to advise on their finances.

The University of Cumbria ( has a firm commitment to, and a history of, accessible higher education regionally, nationally and internationally. At the centre of the university’s mission is the provision of an accessible and outstanding student experience and the aim to ensure as many people as possible benefit from the transformational opportunities provided by higher education. This includes seeing many students from less advantaged backgrounds succeed in higher education.

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