Scotland’s universities are to offer places to all young people who have spent time in care, if they meet minimum entry requirements, in a bid to drive up the numbers going on to higher education.

The move, which will affect those seeking to take up an undergraduate place at university from Autumn 2020, is backed by 18 higher education institutions.

The guarantee aims to recognise the difficult context in which young people with experience of care have achieved entry qualifications. Undergraduate courses are in high demand and typically only 50-55 per cent of applications from people living in Scotland result in an offer.

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Universities Scotland said there was a significant gap in the educational attainment of people with experience of care. Just 12% of “looked after” school-leavers have achieved at least one Higher or equivalent qualification compared to 62% of all school leavers. At the moment, only 4% of looked after school leavers go directly into higher education, compared to 41% of all school leavers.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: “In the face of this substantial inequality, we feel it is only right to recognise the achievement of people with experience of care who succeed in reaching minimum entry requirements.”

The guarantee was formally announced at an event at Glasgow Caledonian University with support from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and the Principals of Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of St Andrews. Ms Sturgeon said: “It is important that every young person has access to the learning that will provide them with the skills and qualifications they need to meet their aspirations and succeed in life.” Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University added: “Today’s announcement demonstrates that universities across Scotland recognise the importance of those who have had an experience of care and the huge potential they have.”

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Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews said the step would be “catalytic”. “We hope it will enable more people with care experience to feel confident applying to university, knowing that their application is encouraged and will be supported.

Duncan Dunlop, Who Cares? Scotland CEO said: “We welcome the guaranteed offer as it recognises that the barriers Care Experienced people face to accessing higher education can be felt lifelong.”

Iain MacRitchie, founder of MCR Pathways which provides mentors for care- experienced young people, said; “ This new policy is a fantastic step towards widening access to Higher Education.”