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University of Ulster Goes the Extra Mile

5 May 2011

A University of Ulster scheme to help students make the transition from living in care to studying independently at university has been given the seal of approval by Buttle UK, an influential national children’s charity.

Buttle UK supports the needs of disadvantaged young people and the Buttle Quality Mark for Care Leavers in Higher Education is given to institutions assessed by the Trust as 'going the extra mile' to support students from a care background. When Ulster was awarded the Buttle Award in 2009, it was the first institution in Northern Ireland to be recognised in this way.

Mr Trevor Reaney, Director General of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a trustee of Buttle UK, visited the Magee campus this week to review progress on the University’s commitments to help students coming from a care background and to meet with some who are now studying at Ulster.

He said he was very impressed with the excellent work being done at Ulster.

“Thanks to the level of commitment from senior management and the dedication and enthusiasm of staff, the University has created a very supportive environment for students who had been in care. The proof of the pudding is in the growing number of students coming from a care background who are now applying to study here,” said Mr Reaney.  The University operates a wide range of support policies aimed at widening access to create opportunities for people from all backgrounds to study at university, particularly those who have missed out on earlier education or think University study is beyond their capability.

Under the Buttle UK award scheme, the University has committed to take the first step in contacting students from a care background to offer them advice and material help.

Sue Steging, Head of Student Support at Ulster, says the various elements of the initiative represent a significant expansion of the University’s widening-access strategy while also building substantially on the University’s existing support mechanisms. 

“We are delighted that Buttle UK Trust has recognised our determination to reach out to care leavers and to see how we can support them. The University is conscious of its responsibility to help students feel confident and comfortable, to help them overcome obstacles and grasp the academic and career opportunities that university can open up for them.”

Paul Cassidy, Student Support Outreach Adviser, adds: “The first days at university can be a lonely time for anyone who is leaving a care or foster environment. They can lack the kind of parental or home support of other students and there are areas in which we will be able to step in and help, such as in advising about welfare, advice on study, or perhaps by financial assistance or accommodation.

”Establishing contact with the students coming from a care background can be a challenging task because it is only in the last few years that UCAS forms have included a box to be ticked by anyone who has been in care."

However, Paul, who is based at Magee, welcomes contact from current students who have been in care, irrespective of what year they are in at the University.

One element of the initiative is a £500 University bursary for students who have spent three months in care. In the current academic year, 27 students have received the bursary. Buttle UK is the largest UK charity providing grant aid solely to individual children and young people in desperate need.

The University of Ulster’s scheme works in tandem with statutory and voluntary agencies which provide support to care leavers. The initiative has now been extended to include potential students by working with schools to let teenagers know about the level of support available at Ulster.
A series of outreach activities including ‘taster days’ has been organised to give potential students who have been in care an opportunity to see facilities at each of the four campuses and to talk to staff and students.