Too few care-leavers make it to university - but London is leading the way, report says

Students will be affected by strikes by university support staff (Chris Radburn/PA) (PA Archive)
Students will be affected by strikes by university support staff (Chris Radburn/PA) (PA Archive)

Campaigners are urging the government to do more to increase the number of care leavers going to university – as data shows London institutions are leading the way.

Just 14 per cent of children who have been in care went on to university in 2021-22, compared to 47 per cent of other young people, according to a report by Civitas, commissioned by children’s charity First Star.

But the University of East London topped a new league table for the highest number of care leavers, with 295 undergraduates out of a population of 11,390.

Kingston university, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, Roehampton University, Goldsmiths College, Birkbeck College, the University of Greenwich, and City University were all in the top 50.

At the bottom of the table, published on Monday, was Oxford University with just five care leavers out of 15,685 students.

Frank Young, research director at Civitas, who co-authored the report, said: “We need to break the care ceiling for care leavers getting into university. It is still sadly the case that a care leaver is more likely to end up in a prison cell than a lecture theatre.”

The report highlights Department for Education figures that show just 550 care leavers under the age of 19 went on to higher education in 2021-22, which represents 0.2 per cent of students starting undergraduate courses.

It said care leavers are half as likely to go university than a child growing up in the poorest fifth of households or a child entitled to Free School Meals.

In 2021-22, just 90 care leavers under the age of 19 went to one of the top 32 universities in England. This represents 0.1 per cent of new entrants - a figure that has barely changed in the last 10 years.

The league table published in the report is the first ever to compare universities based on the number of care leavers they take.

Campaigners are calling for an annual league table to be published. Frank Young and Daniel Lilley from Civitas, authors of the report, said: “Education league tables are always fraught with imperfections and the cause of much discussion, but they perform a useful role. This is the first ever league table looking exclusively at care leavers and it shouldn’t be the last. Every year a league table should be produced to demonstrate how well we are doing as a country.”

They also called for universities to conduct an annual canvas to find out how many care leavers they have, admitting that: “The truth is, as exposed in this report, that we don’t really know how many students grew up in care. The tick box provided on the UCAS form is a blunt and inaccurate measure. We can’t provide support for care leavers at university if we don’t know they exist.”

The Civitas report also recommended a Scottish style scholarship scheme to help care leavers into education.

Education ministers have promised to close the gap between care leavers and non-care leavers getting into higher education. But Civitas calculated it would take more than 107 years to achieve this aim at the present rate of progress.

Sources at the University of Oxford queried the figure of five, while a spokesman said 72 care leavers were accepted to Oxford between 2019 and 2022.