Exploring the reasons why care leavers choose not to access higher education

Government attitudes towards increasing support for care leavers have been moving in a positive direction during the last decade. However, many barriers remain for care-experienced young people transitioning to adulthood. The past few years have seen an ongoing policy push towards encouraging care leavers to engage in higher education with the promise of additional bursaries and support until age 25, which until recently was limited to those attending university.

Research suggests that only 6% of 19-21-year-old care-leavers are in higher education in England during the 2018-19 academic-year (Department for Education 2019) although the position in Wales is less clear (Allnatt 2019). A common theme arising is the lack of awareness among care leavers of their legal entitlements or available support (HM Government 2016). This suggests that a barrier in care-leavers attending university could be a lack of awareness of the support available.

As part of a postgraduate research study, my survey aims to explore policy provisions and support networks available for care-experienced young people in England and Wales who do not go on to study at university.

I would like to find out how care-leavers feel about the support they received in deciding whether to attend university, how this directly impacted their decision, and how they think this could have been improved, for both themselves and for future care-leavers. It is essential that care-leavers are given sufficient information to make meaningful and informed life choices, particularly given the current rhetoric in encouraging care leavers to engage in higher education.

Samantha O’Rourke
Cardiff University


Allnatt, G. 2019. Transitions from care to higher education: A case study of a young person’s journey. In D. Mannay, A. Rees and L. Roberts (eds.), Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Department for Education. 2019. Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2019. (accessed 05/05/2020) HM

Government. 2016. Keep On Caring: Supporting Young People from Care to Independence. (accessed 05/05/2020)