Caring for our children and young people: corporate parenting update 2018 to 2021

Second national report on corporate parenting by Scottish Ministers. In this 2018 to 2021 report, we provide an overview of corporate parents’ activities over the last three years, and how they have delivered their duties to support children and young people with care experience.

Chapter 5: Corporate Parenting Activities of Scotland’s Universities


In this chapter, we review the corporate parenting activities of Scotland’s universities between 2018 and 2021. The chapter is based on the survey responses provided by 17 of Scotland’s 19 universities.

Across Scotland’s universities, the survey responses clearly show that a significant amount of activity has taken place between 2018 and 2021, with significant progress being made in relation to an increased understanding of the needs and issues of students with care experience, and a range of positive actions to better meet these needs. Alongside this, the implementation of the Care Experienced Student Bursary Award has not only provided a degree of financial incentive and security for students with care experience, but also added impetus for enhanced supports and broadened staff’s understanding of some of the barriers to further and higher education faced by care experienced young people.

What is especially positive about the information received is that whilst Universities have an obvious and particular role in terms of their education function, they are demonstrating an increasing awareness of the holistic needs and issues of students from care experienced backgrounds. This is evident in the range of measures and supports that are in place, throughout a student’s journey, from initial interest and application through to graduation. In addition, there is an obvious commitment to ongoing learning and improvement, for example via internal and external reviews, benchmarking against other universities, and importantly working in partnership with care experienced students directly to inform their practice and improvement journeys.

Whilst some of the activity by some institutions has been described as being delivered on a one-off basis, other activity is being embedded in systems, structures and processes, indicating that continued and ongoing focus is being maintained.

It is also important to highlight some of the additional activity and support that has been put in place as response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent public health measures. The pandemic has exacerbated and amplified many of the challenges already faced by students with care experience and therefore many of the additional measures put in place were vital to addressing the health and wellbeing of these students.


It is the duty of every corporate parent to be alert to matters which, or which might, adversely affect the wellbeing of children and young people.

We found that universities were alert to the matters and issues affecting students with care experience across a range of issues, not just in terms of academic studies. Wellbeing and emotional support, accommodation and finance, and more recently the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic were all highlighted as factors to be considered and addressed when ensuring appropriate levels of support for students with care experience.


Dedicated Support Staff for Students with Care Experience


Universities have developed and demonstrated a range of activities to provide enhanced and in most cases, dedicated staffing to support students with care experience from pre-entry through to graduation. This can involve general support and advice, with enhanced understanding across the admissions, teaching and support teams, through to specific and dedicated bespoke support throughout a student’s time at university.

Since the beginning of 2020 the University of West of Scotland have two named contacts for care experienced students and have formulated a new team - the ‘WeCare’ Team - with a dedicated contact email and a team who work together from pre-entry to graduation to support care experienced students.

In September 2018 Queen Margaret University (QMU) appointed a Head of Widening Participation and Outreach as QMU’s Named Point of Contact for care experienced students to provide personalised and tailored advice and support, from application to graduation and coordinates the University’s Corporate Parenting duties and responsibilities.

Glasgow Caledonian University established a Case Conference process to support care experienced students who may require support in critical instances. The process is co-ordinated by the Head of Student Wellbeing and brings together academic and support staff who work with students to put together bespoke support plans.


Training and Awareness Raising

Most universities identified learning and development and awareness-raising for staff as important to being alert to the needs of students with care experience. This included a range of activity from in-house sessions to collaborative approaches with external partners at both local and national level. Ongoing focus to ensure that staff and systems remain aware of the specific issues and attuned to the needs of students with care experience has been demonstrated through these activities.


Scotland’s Rural College requires all members of their corporate parent working group to undertake the Open University module on care experienced learners, and this has been rolled out through the staff development programme. Staff also participate in appropriate networks, including Colleges Scotland, Who Cares? Scotland and CELCIS.

At Heriot Watt University, the Hub for Success and Who Cares? Scotland have provided training for key staff within the University and training sessions and guidance has been developed for Personal Tutors to raise awareness of the challenges facing care experienced students and signpost the institutional support available.

The University of Highlands and Islands created an online staff corporate parenting training module, which is mandatory for all staff to complete.

Through 2018–2021 the University of St Andrews actively collaborated with the Open University in their development of module for care experienced training. This will be rolled out as essential training to staff.

The Open University in Scotland are working with their People’s Services team to adapt the Corporate Parenting in Higher Education course for a four nations context and make it available to staff across the university, including teaching staff who are employed centrally. They are also meeting with the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL) with a view to sharing the course with other UK universities.


Collaboration and Liaison with Stakeholders

Universities evidenced a range of activity to ensure that they were able to draw on support and experience of key partners in being alert to the needs and improve educational pathways to university for students with care experience. These included involvement in forums and networks at both local and national level.

Whilst all universities evidenced partnership working and collaboration, many of these were with agencies other than statutory Corporate parents. However many gave examples of drawing on good links and relationships with local partners and national agencies to inform developments and improvements. Organisations such as CELCIS, Hub for Success, Who Cares? Scotland, Scottish Funding Council and MCR Pathways were cited as being key partners in informing an improved understanding of the issues and needs of students with care experience, as well as offering input and support to an improved understanding and application of corporate parenting duties. These are key links to maintaining a more contextual approach to meeting the holistic needs of care experienced students. Other collaborative relationships included engagement with Student Forums and, at local authorities level, Champions Boards and Virtual School Head Teachers Forum.


Glasgow School of Art (GSA) Open Studio works with 120 schools across the west of Scotland and have developed specific partnerships with organisations that work directly with care experienced young people (o i.e. Become, Who Cares? Scotland and MCR Pathways to ensure that more care experienced young people are aware of the opportunities and support available to them at GSA. Disclosure and monitoring mechanisms are in place and there is evidence of increased participation by looked after children and care experienced young people in the full range of Open Studio activities.

The University of West of Scotland maintained links and attended events from Who Cares? Scotland, Care Experienced, Estranged and Student Carers Forum, Become Charity, Stand Alone Charity, National Widening Access Group, Universities Scotland, SWAP West, SCAAP, MCR Pathways as well as local support networks.

Heriot Watt University’s involvement in networks such as the Hub for Success and CEECEF (Care experienced, Estranged and Carers East Forum) helped them to identify and understand the challenges faced by care experienced students and to share best practice with other further and higher education institutions.

Collaboration with other key statutory corporate parents (e.g. local authorities education services and social work services, including family placement teams, residential staff and throughcare and aftercare teams) was less evident and yet a more joined up approach between these services would make a real different to many students with care experience.


Care Experienced Voice

Being alert to the lived experience of care leavers was a recurring theme for most universities. Some were further on in their journey of listening and understanding than others but there was an explicit commitment to improving on current activity to ensure a genuine and authentic articulation of care experienced voice in shaping supports and services.

Universities described various ways in which they have attempted to ensure appropriate and meaningful levels of participation, consultation and the incorporation and influence of care experienced voice in planning, delivering and reviewing support. Some of this was done via in-house forums and process, some of which were one-off and others set up for specific purposes. These included Corporate Parenting Steering Groups (Stirling and Glasgow Caledonia universities), Students Associations (Dundee and West of Scotland universities). Other approaches saw work in partnership with external partners such as local authorities Champions Boards, Who Cares? Scotland and MCR Pathways. This enabled engagement with potential as well as current students. There were issues highlighted in how and when to engage with care experienced students and to what end.

Whilst some universities have well developed processes others acknowledge that they are at different stages of the journey but with commitments to make progress.


The Open University in Scotland’s planned consultation exercise with its wider cohort of care experienced students was postponed due to the pandemic. They hope it will take place in 2021/22. The previous consultation in 2018 led to the formation of the Student Reference Group. This group informs all actions taken in relation to corporate parenting and is represented on the Steering Group.

The University of Highlands and Islands has been a member of the local Highland CHAMPS group which brings together local agencies who work with care experienced young people to collaborate and share ideas on activities that can support this group.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland consulted with their care experienced students and with Who Cares? Scotland, MCR Pathways and the Glasgow Care Forum to find out best-practice approaches to being alert and embedded these measures in their corporate parenting plan.

The University of Highlands and Islands have found student engagement to be a challenge and are aware of the many complex reasons why these students do not wish to be involved in some of the work they do.


Care Experienced Voice

Students with care experience are not a homogenous group and therefore participation must be meaningful and flexible and attempt to reflect the broad range of issues and experiences they encounter. This has been particularly evident over the last year as the impact of COVID-19has highlighted and exacerbated many of the existing challenges, but also as new challenges, issues and needs become apparent.


Glasgow School of Art have not systematically engaged or consulted over the six Duties but recognise there is opportunity to develop formal processes to ensure that they have listened to, involved and included the voice and experience of children and young people and used this information to inform strategy and future action.

The University of Strathclyde has recognised the importance of seeking out and listening to the voices and experience of young people and students during the pandemic. The Strathclyde Cares mentoring programme quickly transitioned to online/virtual support with mentors regularly checking in with their students and helping them engage with relevant support services where necessary.


Alert and Responding to the Impact of COVID-19

The backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate negative impact on students with care experience has seen universities develop a range of positive and supportive responses. Many universities cited the pandemic as being a significant factor impacting on progressing improvements identified in their Corporate Parenting Plans; but they also were attuned and aware of the particular issues faced by care experienced students during these most challenging times. As such, various measures were introduced to help mitigate the range of issues affecting wellbeing and learning. This recognition of many of the structural disadvantages should form the basis of longer-term adjustments to the range and level of supports and opportunities that need to be in place.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Heriot Watt University plans to address digital exclusion, to clearly signpost financial support (including hardship funds and the University’s access to learning grant of £460) as well as prioritising this group of students to access on-campus facilities during lockdown periods.

The University of Aberdeen sought advice from key partners and stakeholders when writing guidance materials for care experienced students to take into account the unique circumstances they have found themselves in, being particularly careful to avoid unhelpful messaging (e.g. ‘going home for Christmas’). Alumni and peer to peer mentoring was scaled up and plans were developed to support students, especially those who are care experienced, who remained based in Aberdeen over the winter break.


It is the duty of every corporate parent to assess the needs of those children and young people for services and support it provides.

Whilst universities are primarily concerned with assessing academic potential and support needs, many demonstrated an informed understanding of the broader holistic needs and issues faced by students with care experience to enable them to successfully complete their chosen course of study. Much of this focus has been on pre-entry and admission stage although there were positive examples given of ongoing processes for assessing individual and cohort needs. Individual meetings and support processes have been identified alongside regular student surveys and ongoing engagement with other partners and stakeholders. In addition to assessing academic needs, other key matters were identified such as health and wellbeing, financial support and accommodation.


Assessing the Needs of Individual Students with Care Experienced

Universities evidenced a range of broadly similar measures to ensure that individual students have their needs assessed and addressed within bespoke support arrangements. These include pre-entry identification and contact and ongoing engagement with teaching and support staff, addressing both academic support needs as well as practical and wellbeing needs.


The University of Dundee consulted care experienced students both informally – during conversations relating to their individual needs via Student Services supports and more formally through inclusion of care experienced students within the University’s Care Experienced Working Group. They are currently in the process of creating a mechanism for ‘recurring circumstances’ to be taken into account, with individualised support plans in place for students. This collaborative work across the University aims to avoid repeated mitigation submission by care experienced students.

The University of Strathclyde’s Named Care Experience Adviser, alongside the Widening Access Team, has a pivotal role in assessing the needs of care experienced young people. Working collaboratively with MCR Pathways on the MCR/HE Working Group has allowed Strathclyde to work directly with MCR Pathway Mentors offering pre-entry advice and application support to young people.

The University of West of Scotland include a tick box on the enrolment form for experience of care, which can identify students that do not apply through UCAS and is another way for students to self-identify. All those that tick the box at enrolment are sent an email from the ‘WeCare Team’, with an offer to meet face-to-face (pre-COVID-19), telephone or virtually with the student to identify any needs and requirements for support.


Assessing the Needs of the Care Experienced Student Cohort

Whilst students with care experience will have their own individual journeys and bespoke support needs, universities have taken a range of measures to better understand and address the broader issues and systemic challenges which students with care experience can face as a cohort. This includes engaging with partners and stakeholders across a range of areas, including local authorities education and social work/throughcare and aftercare teams, specialist support agencies such as Hub for Success or CELCIS as well as organisations representing care experienced voice such as Who Cares? Scotland and local Champions Boards.


The University of Highlands and Islands Student survey launched an anonymous student survey to coincide with national Care Day which gathered feedback from this group of students to help improve the services offered to them. 41 students completed the survey, and a list of recommendations have been added to the university’s Action Plan to strengthen the existing support.

Glasgow School of Art Widening Participation and Student Support staff are active members of ‘Care experienced, Estranged and Carers West Forum’. The Forum meets 4-5 times per year, and is made up of the ‘named contacts’, primarily for care experienced students, at each HE and FE institution in the west of Scotland. This forum is used to develop knowledge and understanding to support the needs of prospective and current care experienced students.

Students attending Heriot Watt University who declare care experience via their UCAS form are invited over the summer period to an online meeting to support their transition to University. Students are also encouraged to invite anyone else who will be supporting them e.g. a social worker or support worker. This early meeting has helped increase levels of engagement with Student Wellbeing Services and has helped to build stronger relationships with key student support staff.


Data Collection, Analysis and Monitoring Improvement

Whilst all universities identified activity to capture and assess needs of care experienced students via individual and cohort basis, this was generally in relation to qualitative data to improve support. Several institutions have begun to take a more robust approach to assessing both needs and outcomes of their students with care experience by initiating more robust data collection and analysis approaches.


The University of Aberdeen careers service has commissioned an independent student interns project to explore the careers and employability needs of care experienced students. The research will investigate awareness of the levels of support which are currently available and investigate the reasons why students feel able or unable to utilise that support.

The University of Highlands and Islands reported that in the last 2 years, the institution has begun to collect some basic data on care experienced students which will help to inform the development of its services and create a baseline. The student survey will become a yearly activity to collect qualitative data and it is hoped more quantitative data will be available in due course.


Assessing Students with Care Experience Needs Stemming From the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures put in place have added significantly to the issues experienced by students with care experience. A number of institutions were able to demonstrate a range of activities intended to address and alleviate some of the additional stresses particularly when face-face learning, and face-face support contact was not possible.


The University of Glasgow reported that the Care experienced, Estranged and Student Carers West Forum arranged regular meetings of this Forum online. For care experienced students this included automatic hardship payments, the provision of computer & IT equipment as required; more regular proactive contact from the CESSC; and opportunities to have 1-2-1 online chats and/or more informal/social group drop-ins.

Glasgow School of Art recognised that the barriers facing care experienced students during the current pandemic would be further exacerbated. Care experienced students were therefore prioritised for the Digital Inclusion Initiative and the additional COVID-19 funding available in summer and winter 2020.

Queen Margaret University established ‘QMCares’ and have been able to reach and keep in contact with care experienced students throughout lockdown, assessing their ongoing support needs and ensuring members are kept informed of both academic and personal support opportunities.

In response to the pandemic, the University of St Andrews contacted all care experienced students to assess what support they required and ensured that they had access to the events being run. In addition, they sent additional information to care experienced young people regarding financial advice and support.


It is the duty of every corporate parent to promote the interests of those children and young people.

Universities have demonstrated a range of activity to promote the interests of students with care experience. This includes the direct provision of practical, emotional and academic support to those students along with a strategic raising of awareness, staff training and ‘championing’ function within and beyond their institutions. There is evidence that universities are promoting the interest of students with care experience both on a personalised basis within their respective institutions, taking a flexible approach to meeting individual needs, as a well as promoting interests of care experienced students as a specific cohort. Some universities’ actions saw the needs of care experienced students being grouped together with estranged students (young people studying without the support and approval of a family network) and student carers groups. Whilst there are undoubtedly similarities in terms of both needs and responses, it is important to recognise the specific duties and responsibilities that Universities have as statutory corporate parents.


Promotion of personal and individualised interests

A range of actions have been detailed which aim to promote the interests of students with care experience. Many of these actions address some of the structural inequalities and disadvantages that care experienced students can face, including specifically financial difficulties and housing insecurity.

Many universities have detailed the guaranteed offers and contextual admission policies they apply, acknowledging the occasional challenging and complex educational journeys many young people with care experience have to traverse.

Many universities have also identified a range of discretionary and targeted financial supports to ‘level the playing field’. These include financial supports at the outset of university life; ongoing accommodation support during their studies; and financial support to attend and participate fully in graduation ceremonies on successful completion of their studies.


The University of Dundee are offering any care leaver student attending the Access Summer Schools free additional preparation to ensure that when starting in September they are fully prepared and supported for life as a student.

The University of Edinburgh have started to process applications that have been marked as care experienced on the UCAS application within a week of receipt. If applicants are verified as being care experienced, then they are changed to ‘Plus Flag’ and will be made a guaranteed early offer at minimum. They also make these applicants an aspirational offer at minimum if they are predicted one grade below this level.

For academic year 20/21, the University of West of Scotland have introduced the UWS Care Experience Grant, which is a start-up grant, which allows care experienced students access to funds to help with the cost of starting University.


Promotion of the interests of care experienced students as a cohort

Activity in this area has included supporting to help inform and shape an improved understanding of care experienced students by enabling them to share their stories, their journeys and success. Re-framing the narrative around care experience is important both to challenge stigma but also to present a more informed and empowering understanding of the journeys of students with care experience.


The University of Glasgow has supported care experienced students to promote their stories through social media, and supported their involvement in such events as the launch of the Guaranteed Offer by the First Minister (at Glasgow Caledonian University in July 2019) and the StandAlone awareness-raising events held at the Scottish Parliament in February and September 2019.

The University of Strathclyde is proactive in promoting all Care Experience celebration events through our social media channels, for example, care leavers week, The Promise, Care Day.

Heriot Watt University is a member of the Hub for Success and CEECEF (Care experienced, Estranged and Carers East Forum) and this has helped identify and understand the challenges faced by care experienced students and to share best practice and promote collaborative working with other further and higher education institutions.


Digital Connection

The vital importance of digital connection has been further highlighted through the impact of COVID-19 as students struggled to access on-campus connection or IT hardware to maintain their studies. As noted elsewhere, students with care experience have been afforded priority access to IT hardware and funding to support digital connection via Wi-Fi and broadband.


The University of West of Scotland have given all care experienced students priority for the Digital Hardship Scheme and have notified them of this to ensure they apply if they require it.

Glasgow Caledonian University has made dedicated resources available for care experienced students including long-term loan of a laptop to ensure that they are not affected by access to digital resources. They also have a Digital Inclusion Fund and all care experienced students are encouraged to apply for any additional resources they might need e.g. broadband time.

Glasgow School of Art recognised that the issues of Digital Inclusion were particularly significant for this group of students. In the roll out of the Digital Inclusion Scheme during COVID-19they were prioritised to receive laptops and relevant software for the duration of their academic programmes.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have been able to support students with funding for technical equipment to be able to better access online activity during the global COVID-19 pandemic.


Responding to COVID-19

The impact of the public health precautions and social restrictions have added existing challenges not least in terms of educational disruption, digital access, social isolation and resultant impacts on mental health and emotional wellbeing. Universities have demonstrated an informed and supportive approach.


During the pandemic Glasgow Caledonian University have been aware that for some students their home environment is not conducive to study, so have offered safe socially distanced study spaces in the library. This enabled students to continue their studies or undertake their assessments on campus if that was better for them.

Scotland’s Rural College offers residential accommodation to care experienced students and students with caring responsibilities based on a wellbeing assessment, carried out by a member of the support team on each campus. The residential department offers bed and breakfasts to students who are suffering personal hardship during COVID-19.


It is the duty of every corporate parent to seek to provide those children and young people with opportunities to participate in activities designed to promote their wellbeing.

Universities described offering a range of specific and dedicated opportunities to students with care experience. Many, for example, referred to enhancing access and admission opportunities or ongoing academic support during the course of study. There was also some specific focus on the broader holistic needs of students with care experience including enhanced opportunities for housing and accommodation support and access to financial supports via additional grants and bursaries.

Addressing these matters is fundamental to helping alleviate anxieties and stresses and providing predictability and security for students who may lack the family support that other students may receive as a matter of course. In addition, broader supports and opportunities were in place in many settings including enhanced access to sports clubs, social clubs and other events both on and off campus. Several universities detailed specific activity to promote and address mental health and wellbeing ranging from informal drop-in ‘Big Blethers’, through staff and peer mentoring supports, to dedicated and targeted support with access to mindfulness classes and counselling. Access to named university staff as key contacts were often cited as gateways to additional support.


Supported Transitions into Student Life

A number of initiatives were cited to ease transitions to university and campus life for students with care experience. Designed to help orientate students, alleviate anxieties, identify supports and assist with induction, these examples cited demonstrate positive person-centred approaches.


In 2019 the University of Stirling piloted a ‘transition move-in’ scheme. This enabled students with care experience to move into university accommodation two days before the official move-in date. In 2019, 10 students took part. The funding covered two additional nights’ accommodation, two breakfasts and a dinner. Over the two days, the students received a campus tour, met with the relevant Accommodation Support and Student Support Services teams and took part in social activities.

In August 2020, the University of West of Scotland organised a Virtual Transition Event for care experienced new students. The event provided information on support from the WeCare Team, Funding and Advice, Health and Well-Being, Academic Skills and the Students Union, including the care experienced Students Group who provided information and advice on UWS including enrolment and what to expect when you start your course.


Careers and Employability

Several universities have provided paid work experience opportunities to enable students to gain valuable experience, earn extra income, and, combined with dedicated careers advice, enhance future employment prospects.


The University of Stirling care experienced students have access to paid opportunities on their ambassador scheme and the University actively supports and encourages individuals to apply for internships.

Glasgow Caledonian University Outreach department employs students to work on many of the Outreach activities that are run through the department. These are paid work opportunities for students. Care experienced GCU students are guaranteed an interview for these positions. GCU Careers and Employability team help care experienced young people to build their employability skills and provide a range of support including CV writing, interview practice and guidance from employers who work directly with students to help their understanding of the work place.

The University of Edinburgh offer targeted careers and employability support through a named contact within the Careers Service.


Health and Wellbeing

The promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing included a range of support and opportunities: the opportunity to travel and represent their universities internationally; as well as support for anxiety, stress management and counselling. As noted elsewhere, access to sports clubs and social events were also promoted and students with care experience had priority access and funding support.


The University of Strathclyde prioritises care experienced students for international experiences, with care experienced students going on educational trips to Madrid, Barcelona and Los Angeles since 2018.

The University of West of Scotland utilise Silvercloud, an online support tool to help students who are suffering from anxiety or stress. Students are made aware of this through regular communications, support from the UWS qualified counselling team, as well as the other Health and Well Being services and events and support that is available to all students.

The Open University in Scotland provides a 24/7 online community to support students’ mental health and wellbeing called Togetherall. In 19/20, the OU in Scotland received funding from the Scottish Government to provide counselling services for students. They contracted with Togetherall to provide Live Therapy. Live Therapy is an online direct therapy service providing the same number of sessions and quality of treatment as face-to-face therapy. Sessions are delivered by any combination of text, audio and webcam, based on preferences, by a team of remote UK-based accredited counsellors.


Housing and Accommodation

Most universities have addressed the need for students with care experience to have access to stable and affordable housing and accommodation. This can be on-campus with the availability of fully funded ‘halls of residence’ accommodation. Other examples included ‘flat share’ tenancies and rent deposit schemes.

In December 2018 Queen Margaret University provided a letter of support for East Lothian Council’s (ELC) ‘My Place’ application to Life Changes Trust. My Place is an innovative housing project that aims to support care experienced young people into their first tenancy through provision of Peer Flat Mates. Through membership of the Council’s Corporate Parenting Board, the Widening Participation and Outreach (WPO) team worked with ELC’s Housing team and colleagues at Rock Trust to promote the Peer Flatmate opportunities. ELC have to date purchased 3 three-bed properties and two of the rooms in each property are offered to care experienced young people as their first tenancy, with the third room offered rent-free to a Peer Flatmate who acts as a positive role model for the care experienced young people. WPO helped to attract QMU students (including two with care experience) to the Peer Flatmate roles and all current properties have QMU students living with the care experienced young people as the Peer Flatmates.

The University of Stirling care experienced students living in university accommodation are now fast tracked to be assessed for funding from the University Accommodation Enhancement Fund for either a £1,500 annual reduction for undergraduates or £1,800 annual reduction for postgraduates.


Social opportunities and connections in response to COVID-19

As detailed elsewhere, response to the public health precautions and restrictions because of COVID-19 have seen a range of measures introduced. These have included opportunities which have both been practical e.g. addressing digital access and digital issues as well emotional wellbeing by initiating and supporting access to opportunities to address social isolation.


In partnership with Dundee University Student Association, University staff co-hosted a Christmas lunch in 2020 for students who could not travel home for Christmas, whilst this was due to the pandemic they will be supporting such an initiative again in 2021 for any students who are on their own.

The University of Strathclyde Widening Access team work closely with Strath Union, Strathclyde’s student association, to provide and promote social events to care experienced students, such as bowling trips and movie nights (pre-pandemic), and in the wake of COVID-19, remote social events.


It is the duty of every corporate parent to take such action as it considers appropriate to help those children and young people to:

  • access opportunities;
  • make use of services, and access support, which it provides; and

A recurring issue relates to students with care experience identifying themselves as care experienced via UCAS or an institution’s application tick box. This can be an important trigger in opening up additional targeted supports and opportunities. However, individual students may choose not to declare their care experience during the application or entry stage. Universities need to ensure that students with care experience are fully aware of all benefits of self-declaring, whilst maintaining appropriate levels of confidentiality. The primary purpose should be to ensure enhanced support and opportunities, which directly benefit them. The combination of repeat opportunities to declare throughout their period of study enables students to identify for support should their circumstances change and universities should ensure that these recurring opportunities are available. Alongside that, engaging with key partners, for example local authorities, schools and other bodies enables universities to be alert to individual needs and take account of common issues facing care experienced young people entering higher education, and ensure appropriate access to opportunities.


Widening Access

Universities have continued to develop and improve on Widening Access activity with specific focus on students with care experience. This has involved a range of activity including: self-declaration tick boxes; guaranteed interviews; and dedicated follow up and offers of one-to-one support through application.

Many described contextual admissions policies, supported offers and guaranteed admission if students with care experience meet minimum entry requirements.

Much of this personalised and individualised support is dependent on care experience applicants and students declaring or identifying their care experience via UCAS or other process. It is crucial to ensure ensuing support is tailored and personalised to individual needs. This requires flexible, sensitive, creative and responsive approaches throughout the students’ pre-entry/admissions process and throughout their study time.


The University of Strathclyde introduced a care-experience declaration box, incorporated into the Registration Questionnaire which is completed by all students at the start of each academic year. This has enabled students who did not declare through UCAS or where they have applied for a course that does not come through the UCAS route to identify as care experienced in order to access additional support. They have also incorporated a means to self-identify into formal articulation college application forms for those students applying through college. The Strathclyde Pre-entry Access Course also incorporates the tick box and allows the named contact for Strathclyde to be alerted when any care experienced young person applies for Strathclyde. The incorporation of a self-declaration option on all entry routes has provided care experienced applicants the opportunity to receive one-to-one support during the application process as well as support during transition.

At the University of Aberdeen, for degree programmes which require an interview, care experienced students are guaranteed an interview, and the ‘Reach Programme’ supports applicants with training sessions and mock interviews for the medicine degree.

The University of Stirling have established procedures to arrange individual visits for applicants with care experience and their supporters to see the campus and find out about what we offer as well as individual meetings with academic colleagues in the subject area of interest.


Health and Wellbeing Supports

As detailed elsewhere, response to the public health precautions and restrictions because of COVID-19 have seen a range of measures introduced. These have included opportunities which have both been practical (e.g. addressing digital access and digital issues) and more emotional in nature by initiating and supporting access to opportunities to address social isolation and enhance wellbeing.


The University of Edinburgh staff and peer mentoring schemes that have been put in place also ensures this wider distribution of activities and also actively promotes wellbeing by ensuring students have continuity of support throughout their studies and a strong network of staff to support them.

Heriot Watt University issue regular communications inviting students to wellbeing activities. Dedicated events for widening participation student groups like Time to Talk which supports students to discuss topics like mental health and help build peer relationships.


Student Life

Universities have given examples of supporting students to access opportunities from sustaining stable year-round accommodation, additional funding support, to life-enhancing opportunities to travel and experience life and study in other countries and cultures.


Heriot Watts University’s accommodation team proactively contact care experienced students staying in halls of residence to see if they need accommodation over the summer period/for the next academic year. For those who choose to move into private accommodation the University will act as a rent guarantor.

The University of Strathclyde care experienced students are informed of, and supported to take up, a wide range of additional opportunities. These include financial help such as access to the discretionary fund. Graduation funding ensures that care experienced students can attend their graduation and any accompanying social events and incudes funding for a photography package and gown. Care experienced students have also been supported to access international opportunities. For example, care experienced students were eligible to apply for a fully funded, ten-day cultural exchange programme to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in September 2019.


Financial Assistance

The issue of financial hardship and precariousness for young people with care experience is well-documented. A particular difficulty when it comes to financial hardship is the lack of a ‘bank of mum & dad’ safety net which others may take for granted. Many universities have recognised this, particularly in relation to the additional financial challenges as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many responses have ensured prioritised access to additional discretionary funds, both to cover essential living expenses as well as funds to ensure inclusion and full access to student life and the student experience.


Scotland’s Rural College prioritises care experienced students and students with caring responsibilities when applying for financial support, including the Care experienced Bursary, Discretionary One-off Emergency funding, Monthly Discretionary funding, and the Mental Health funding. To cover COVID-19 hardship, additional funding resources have been made available to all students with care experience particularly focused for communication to ensure they are supported.

University of Stirling have established a £500 care experienced bursary created from the relative hardship fund. Students can apply for this funding each year of their course. In addition, they have set up a £150 graduation bursary created from the hardship fund to cover gown hire and photographs, and this is provided to every care experienced student who is graduating in the current year.


It is the duty of every corporate parent to take such other actions as it considers appropriate for the purposes of improving the way in which it exercises its functions in relation to those children and young people.

For the Improve duty, and with a slightly different emphasis to the wording contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, we asked universities how they have reviewed their performance as a corporate parent to help bring about improvements for students with care experience. Information received regarding improvement activity includes collating baseline data on numbers of applications, retention rates and successful outcomes, as well as reviewing the range of supports available to students with care experience, and the impact on the quality of student experience. Universities responded to this survey question via a combination of internal reviews of plans, reporting to external bodies, and engagement and consultation processes with students with care experience.


Internal Reviews of Plans and Activity

A range of activity to monitor, inform and drive improvements across a range of areas was reported. These included processes to gauge progress and improvements around admissions and retention of students. Universities described several ways in which they review and reflect on current activity to support students during their course of study. These include reporting to internal bodies such as the Fair Access Committee or Widening Access Board.


The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland reported on monitoring the application to matriculation (and retention) of its undergraduate students, which has enabled it to monitor student progress, make adjustments and set achievable targets to increase the number of care experienced students studying on degree programmes. These numbers have been reported through the Fair Access Committee with input from the institutional statistician and are continually monitored through the registry system.


Reporting to External Bodies

Activity includes the submission of formal reports to Scottish Funding Council based on Outcome Agreements. In addition, involvement with external partners and networks enable institutions to learn from each other and adopt and develop good practice.


The University of Glasgow and the Open University in Scotland both highlighted how they report annually on their respective Outcome Agreements to the Scottish Funding Council. This includes performance against their targets for the recruitment and retention of care experienced students.

Heriot Watt University works with the wider HE sector (through the Hub for Success and CEECEF) to benchmark performance and develop best practice in its approach to supporting care experienced students.

University of Highlands and Islands involvement with Highland Champions Board provides an opportunity to learn from other local corporate parents.


Engagement and Consultation with students with care experience

Activity highlighted includes the use of surveys as well as the inclusion and participation of students with care experience in review groups and established mechanisms. As noted, there are challenges and issues with this activity in terms of capturing and reflecting the range of issues and support needs of students with care experience both individually and as a cohort. This area of work requires ongoing attention to ensure it is inclusive, representative and impactful and has real value and meaning for both students and universities.


The University of Highlands and Islands launched an anonymous student survey last year which asked students for feedback on their experience of accessing services, their use of the tick box to disclose, and any support which had been implemented. A report was subsequently produced, giving an overview of the results and outlining a number of suggested recommendations which will be discussed by the Priority Groups Forum. The survey will become a yearly activity. The local Highland Champions Board group were involved in the creation of this survey to ensure the questions asked were appropriate.

At the University of West of Scotland the ‘WeCare Team’ are continually reviewing performance and developing support and provision for all care experienced students based on feedback from care experienced students themselves. Feedback is being obtained on an annual basis through the care experienced Student Survey and through communications and enquiries with students on a daily basis.

In Summary

Scotland’s universities have demonstrated and evidenced an evolving understanding of the diverse needs of students with care experience and the range of both systemic and bespoke supports required to enable them to access, sustain and succeed in their chosen course of study. Whilst some institutions are further on in their improvement journey as corporate parents than others, the overall sector response has been heartening and positive. Progress can be consolidated with a continued focus on collaboration and shared learning, and ensuring that the voices of students with care experience are at the heart of embedding structural and cultural change.



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