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Breaking the Care Ceiling: How many care leavers go to university?

Frank Young and Daniel Lilley, September 2023

This Civitas report provides new evidence on the number of care leavers who go to university in the UK alongside the first-ever league table of care leavers at UK universities.

In 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care estimated the lifetime cost of poor outcomes for children with experience of our care system was over £1 million per child. This report by Daniel Lilley and Frank Young shows that getting into university and graduating helps to avoid many of these outcomes.

Young people from care backgrounds leaving education have some of the worst outcomes of any group in society and are some of the least likely to get to university.

Just 14 per cent of care leavers under the age of 19 progress onto higher education, compared to 47 per cent of all other children, a discrepancy that has hardly changed in a decade.

This analysis shows that children entitled to Free School Meals and those in the poorest fifth of households are more than twice as likely to go to university before the age of 19 as a young person who grew up in care.

At the top 32 universities in England, only 90 care leavers under the age of 19 started an undergraduate course in 2021/22. It will take 107 years to close this gap at the current rate of progress, something the government has pledged to do in response to the Independent Care Review.

This report sets out why it matters that more children who have grown up in care get into university and what we can do about it.

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