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Why university is important for care-experienced and estranged students

13 May 2019

Unite Scholar Asher Flanagan created and hosted an informative event of advice and networking for care leavers and estranged young people considering university. She spoke to us about why she is so passionate about broadening access to higher education.

On 1st May 2018 I hosted Breaking The Barriers at Unite Students’ Orchard Heights accommodation. It was a one off event aimed at helping young people who are estranged from their parents or have spent time in care, to access higher education. I organised this event, with the help of many lovely people, because coming to university has been the best experience of my life-so far. However, I am aware that for many people, there are significant barriers that may stop them from getting here. So, I thought that it would be useful for me to share my experiences, in the hope that it might make university seem like a more accessible place.

I became estranged from my parents when I was 14. For me, school was my safe place. I enjoyed the stability and the structure it gave me, and school was something I was good at. I can’t remember exactly when I first thought that I wanted to go to university, no one in my immediate family had ever gone, but after attending a Sutton Trust Summer school in Year 11, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

One of the most important things I’ve learnt since being at university is that no one is “normal”. It may sometimes seem like everything is set up around the typical “nuclear family”, but in coming to university and meeting people from all walks of life and having countless new experiences, I’ve realised that having different life experiences is what makes people so interesting and it can shape you into a much better person because of it.

Education is key to social mobility and making sure that everyone can pursue their passions. This is why I’m passionate about spreading the word that university is for all. At the event we addressed four main barriers to university for young people who are estranged or care experienced. They are:

  • lack of information, advice and encouragement
  • worrying about finances
  • worrying about accommodation
  • worry about additional academic and person difficulties

We highlighted the wealth of support out there – if you know where to look – and Unite Students ran their Leapskills workshop which provided a great opportunity for conversations about what living at university might be like. I hope that no one will be put off of considering university because of their background.