Students with experience of the care system have met Scottish Government Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville at the University of Strathclyde, as she heard of the University’s progress in widening access to higher education.
Ms Somerville, the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, learned during her visit to Strathclyde of the sector-leading initiatives the University is pursuing to remove barriers to participation.
She met care-experienced Strathclyde students, and staff at the University who are involved in their support and mentoring.
Scottish Funding Council figures issued in February 2017 identified Strathclyde as Scotland’s leading research-intensive university for attracting widening access entrants to higher education.
Ms Somerville said: “I was delighted to visit Strathclyde and to have the opportunity to meet with staff and students. I saw for myself the great work the university and its staff does on making access to university education fair for all. Widening access to higher education is a key priority for this government and I am always interested to see the different approaches each of Scotland’s excellent Universities are taking to make this a reality.
“At Strathclyde, I was particularly pleased to learn about the Strathclyde Cares Programme which is specifically designed to help care experienced young people gain access to university and have the extra support and advice they may need throughout their academic life. It is initiatives like this that will allow us to tackle some of the barriers that our most vulnerable students face, when trying to better their own lives with a higher education qualification.
"It was a privilege to hear first-hand from students about the real difference that the Care Experienced Student Bursary will make to them and to young people like them who have until now felt unable to commit to full time study.”
Dr Veena O’Halloran, Director of Student Experience and Enhancement Services at Strathclyde, said: “Access to education for all is one of the founding principles of Strathclyde and is very much part of our University’s DNA.
“We firmly believe that all students should have an equal chance of academic success, regardless of their circumstances, and to benefit from the life-changing opportunities university can bring.
“We were delighted to welcome Ms Somerville to Strathclyde to see at first-hand the range of support we offer to widen participation in higher education.”
The pioneering Strathclyde Cares programme – a UK first – is helping care-experienced students throughout their higher education journey, from pre-application to graduation and beyond. The programme includes a two-day summer programme for care-experienced participants, to introduce university life; support from a named care advisor; financial support from the Alumni Fund for graduating students to meet the costs of gowns, photographs and transcripts; dedicated Careers Service support; and a Strathclyde Cares summer internship.
In September last year, Strathclyde Cares launched a new mentoring programme, pairing care-experienced students with trained volunteer members of staff from across the University community. More than 150 staff members volunteered within 48 hours of the programme going live.
Over six years, there has been a 38% increase in the number of applicants to Strathclyde declaring a care background; a 75% increase in the number of offers to those declaring care experience; and a 114% increase in the number of such students registering.
Other widening participation initiatives at Strathclyde include:
• the Engineering Academy, a collaboration between Strathclyde, partner colleges and industry, giving college students an alternative route to higher education
• the Strathclyde-founded Glasgow Children’s University, the first of its kind in Scotland, which gives children age from seven to 14 the opportunity to learn out of school hours
• the Age Friendly Academy, established in 2017 to highlight the University’s commitment to the concept of positive aging, by offering learning opportunities throughout the course of life.
• the MCR Pathways programme, in which Strathclyde is a partner and which provides mentors to pupils who have experience of the care system
• the Strathclyde Literacy Clinic, a volunteering project through which Education students deliver literacy support to pupils in primary schools in areas of economic deprivation
• support for students who are estranged from their families – students who are more vulnerable than most to homelessness and withdrawal from education
• the Young Strathclyders programme, which provides specifically tailored, one-to-one support for talented pupils at schools with low participation rates in higher education.