At the University of Sunderland, we aim to make sure that anyone leaving care has the right support to ensure they reach their full potential at university. Widenening care leavers access to the University through information, advice and support, and providing practical support to care leavers while they are studying at the University.
We understand that care experienced students might have different circumstances or questions as they transition to university. The University of Sunderland’s dedicated We Care Team are here to provide support to anyone who is care experienced and considering higher education. This support is available as and when needed, from pre-application through to graduation and beyond.
We aim to communicate as clearly as possible with our students and have a publication which outlines our support ‘We Care – Support for Care Experienced Students’. We also have dedicated web pages www.sunderland.ac.uk/careleavers, as well as a direct email account and telephone line to our We Care Team.
We provide collaborative opportunities for care experienced young people to engage with a progressive and relevant programme of activity from Year 7-11. This is delivered collaboratively through the North East Raising Aspiration Partnership (NERAP). We are responsive to the particular needs of these students and our We Care Team facilitate bespoke and one-to-one activity to support progression where appropriate.
We provide additional support to help meet the costs of living independently whilst studying. This includes our We Care Scholarship of £2,000 per annum (paid in four instalments of £500 throughout the year) at both undergraduate and postgraduate level; advice on other externally funded scholarships that may be available; priority access where required to the University of Sunderland Hardship Fund and support with the costs of graduation. We also provide budgeting guidance and enhance this offer through links with the Students’ Union, who can provide additional support, guidance and advocacy.
We give care experienced students priority status, reassurance and security when applying to and staying in accommodation through our 52-week accommodation or summer storage guarantee; Residential Support Advisors (RSAs); moving in day support and guidance; help to settle in including orientation of the city; support with the first shop and a welcome voucher on arrival.
We offer a range of financial support including scholarships and bursaries. Please check our website for the latest information.
We provide care experienced students with pastoral support and signpost them throughout the student lifecycle with named advisers in key services who offer information and personalised support. These include the Student Financial Guidance team, Careers and Employability, Disability Support, Student Wellbeing and the Students’ Union.
We provide care experienced students with opportunities to experience new things, to enrich their university life and experiences. For example we have sought funding to support care experienced students with specialist sports equipment (via a local charity – the Brian Roycroft Memorial Fund). We provide scholarships for students who choose to spend a semester or a full year studying abroad. We also cover storage costs if needed. In addition, students are able to access funding through our Alumni and Development team to pursue unique opportunities or fund special projects.
We are committed to supporting our students financially throughout their university journey to ensure that care experienced students are not only appropriately supported, but are able to fully experience university life. We act as a guarantor for care experienced students in private accommodation.
We raise awareness of the needs of care experienced students amongst current staff and students and consult regularly with students to inform the development of our services and action plans. We provide training and staff development to staff across the institution to raise awareness of the support we offer. This includes key events such as confirmation and clearing, open days etc.
We publicise our commitments on our website, setting out how care experienced students can access the support and we invite feedback from our students on the impact. We will continue to consult with our care experienced students to ensure our support is holistic and that our students remain at the heart of our support network.
2. A Robust Employment Offer
We offer our care experienced students personalised guidance and support when applying for Student Ambassador positions at the University. Care experienced students are also guaranteed an interview for this position.
Our Careers and Employability team, Sunderland Futures, offer guidance and support on CVs, interviews and assessment centres. They also advertise placements, opportunities and part-time jobs available for students while studying and graduate opportunities. The service is available to students for up to 3 years after they graduate from the University.
We now include ‘care experienced’ as one of the data groups on our HR equality and diversity monitoring form. If an applicant declares that they’re care experienced as part of an application for any job within the University, they will have the option to receive support from a ‘mentor/coach’ from the University staff community. This could involve guiding them through the application process or providing an insight into life as a member of staff within the institution. This applies to all care experienced applicants, not just our current students and alumni. It is completely optional and we will also share information about the interview process and structure to hopefully reassure and build the confidence of the applicant.
Our own support at the University is enhanced with a collaborative programme of outreach with the five North East Universities known as North East Raising Aspirations Partnership (NERAP).
We provide care experienced young people with a network of support through key relationships with Local Authorities, care workers, social workers; Leaving Care workers, Heads of Virtual Schools, parents/carers, charities, schools and colleges. We have supported Local Authorities by offering higher education training to key workers and foster carers to raise awareness of our offer as well as support for care experienced young people. We have hosted conferences for foster carers and for Virtual Schools. We can also attend Pathway Plan meetings to support the care experienced applicant/student.
We ensure that our staff are part of local and national networks to raise the profile of care experienced young people and ensure we offer the best possible support. We currently work with Local Authorities, Northern Care Leaver Activities and Student Support (NorthCLASS); charities including Become, Stand Alone and the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers (NNECL). Our Widening Access and Participation Manager, Wendy Price, sits on the National Strategy Group for NNECL, for which the University of Sunderland is a member, as the North East representative for this national charity.
We were joint runner up of the Highest Impact University Initiative at the Student Social Mobility Awards 2019. This was for the We Care support we provide to care experienced and estranged students.
We were the winners of the Widening Access Initiative (Retention and Progression) Award at the NEON awards 2020. The University of Sunderland was also named as University of the Year for Social Inclusion by The Times’ Good University Guide 2021.
We actively promote the success and achievements of our care experienced students by producing regular case studies which are shared both in the university community, and wider community, to inspire others.