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Offer alcohol-free accommodation to help students who have been in care, experts tell universities

* New report led by the University of Sheffield calls for enhanced support for students who have been in care to help them through university
* More than half of students who have spent time in care seriously consider dropping out of university
* Dedicated care leaver champions offer a lifeline for students with no family support


Universities should offer alcohol-free accommodation to make the transition to higher education easier for students across the UK who have been in care and reflect the recent decline in youth drinking, according to experts.

Research by Dr Katie Ellis and Claire Johnston at the University of Sheffield found that 70 per cent of students who have left care find it easy to make friends at university, but 27 per cent find the culture of drinking and drug use too much for them.

More than half of the students surveyed who were care leavers had seriously considered dropping out of university, most commonly due to a combination of health issues, money worries, personal and family issues and struggling to manage their workload.

The experts have released a new report calling on universities to offer more practical and emotional support to these students, after finding that 68 per cent had experienced mental health difficulties while studying, but just 44 per cent had received counselling through their university.

They recommend students with experience of the care system are put in touch with a trained care leaver champion to help them navigate university systems and budgets, and are able to access affordable accommodation year-round.

The research showed that 28 per cent of care leavers arrived at university on their own, bringing only what they could carry on public transport, and 41 per cent were no longer in touch with their carers. But 71 per cent received the contact details of a ‘care leaver contact’ at the university, and found this gave them confidence to access help when they needed it.

The report also urges universities to offer bursaries to new and graduating care leavers. More than a quarter of those surveyed said their Local Authority had provided inconsistent information about available financial support, with some describing being denied support after being promised financial help initially. A number struggled to manage financially when they arrived at university because they were not yet able to access either their student loan or university based financial support, leaving some unable to take part in freshers’ week activities.

Dawn, one of the research participants, said of her arrival at university: “I got a bus all the way because my suitcase was too big to carry or to put on the train, so that took 12 hours... I had a cry, because everyone was with their parents and it was really overwhelming. I just was like well, I should have my parents here. I don’t.”

Another student, Craig, added: “It was just disappointing. I’d looked forward to moving to uni and I didn’t have anything to move in, didn’t have anything to unpack, didn’t have anything to put up on the walls, didn’t even have a TV to watch. I didn’t even have food.”

Dr Katie Ellis, Lecturer in Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Sheffield, said: “There are lots of negative statistics bandied around about those who have experience of being in care, but in fact care leavers often go on to achieve really positive things.

“I had the privilege of meeting a whole host of very bright, caring and empathetic students, with care experience, who all made a really positive contribution to their university community. Many overcome significant barriers to access university and it is important that universities do everything they can to ensure that care leavers feel welcomed and appreciated for the valuable contributions that they make.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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