To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support his Department is providing to students who are (a) care leavers and (b) estranged from their families during the covid-19 outbreak.
I wrote to universities and other higher education (HE) providers on 20 March, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, to highlight the vulnerability of care leavers and estranged students, and asked them to prioritise these groups for additional support.
Last month, I met with a group of 12 care leavers and estranged students to formally discuss the issues that they face in both entering and succeeding in HE. Following that discussion, I asked officials to make sure that the end-of-term Christmas guidance, which will be published shortly, pays particular attention to the needs of vulnerable students.
The government has worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to help clarify that HE providers can draw upon existing funding to provide hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by COVID-19. Providers were able to use the OfS’s Student Premium funding worth around £23 million per month for April to July this year and £256 million for the academic year 2020/21, starting from August, towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of mental health support.
The government also invested over £100 million to help provide laptops and devices for disadvantaged children and young people so they can access education and social care services remotely. As part of this, we have provided devices for care leavers, including those who are studying at university.
Care leavers attending HE courses are treated as independent students when their entitlement to living costs is assessed. This means that, in nearly all cases, they will qualify for the maximum loan for living costs. Care leavers undertaking HE also qualify for a £2,000 HE bursary from their local authority.
Additional bursaries are offered by some HE providers for care leavers, and students estranged from their families.