Access and Widening Participation


Getting it Right for Care Leavers in Higher Education

Qualitative research undertaken by the Thomas Coram Research Unit and Access and Widening Participation on the lived lives and experiences of care leavers in higher education.


Care-experienced young people are much less likely to achieve the academic qualifications, overcome the practical obstacles and reconcile the personal difficulties necessary to attend university than other young people who have not been in care, and when they do get to university, there is a relatively high chance they will withdraw early. The aim of this study is to explore what happens at university, from the perspective of both institutional arrangements, and current and former students’ experience, to encourage, or discourage, care experienced students to follow their chosen study programme. Analysis of the data found in four main themes including: enabling an informed choice, continuity of support, prescience and flexibility and belonging.

Key findings

  • Enabling an informed choice: the importance of comprehensive and accessible information about universities, and the differences between them, available to care experienced young people at the application stage.
  • Continuity of support: the importance of continuous relational and practical support through the transition to university and throughout their studies to help build and sustain a sense of confidence, security and stability.
  • Prescience and flexibility: prescience and flexibility referred to the variability of circumstances and needs within those who are ‘care experienced’ and that universities need to have the flexibility to respond to individual profiles and circumstances.
  • Belonging: for many care experienced students, a sense of belonging can take on increased importance due to an instability of past circumstances, and a desire to fit in and not be treated differently.

Key words

Care experience, care leaver, student support, higher education experiences