The First Minister has said she wants to make helping people who grow up in care a defining mission of the Scottish Government. A key part of her plan has been a bursary scheme introduced by the Scottish Government to grant “care experienced” students £8,100 per year.
However, the First Minister is now under pressure from politicians and charities to extend the system because so many students are ineligible for the scheme. Under the rules of the bursary, which was announced at the SNP conference, students from a care background can apply up to the age of 26.
But a large proportion do not make it to university until after that age, because of the difficulties they face in their early life.
The most recent data says that last year 679 of the 3,053 care experienced students at college were over the age of 25. While 128 of the 334 at university were over the age of 25.
Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the bursaries were welcome but said more had to be done.
She said: “Many care-leavers who go to university do so later in life because of the traumatic experiences they’ve had during their childhood. They tend to be mature students, so are missing out on this bursary because of the little-publicised age limit set by the government. I urge ministers to consider making financial support available for care-experienced students aged 26 and over.
She was supported by Duncan Dunlop, chief executive of Who Cares Scotland? the charity which supports people who have been in care.
Mr Dunlop said: “Care-experienced people are like everyone else – they have potential, dreams and the ability to achieve them. Unfortunately our members who are over the age of 26 are being left to do it all on their own.
“We know that many care-experienced people, for example, go onto further and higher education later than others. In some occasions this is because care left them before they were ready and before they were set on the kind of positive path that other young people get the chance to.
“Returning to education can be a huge step, especially when people have no financial, practical or emotional support. Our members want to see that the state is on their side and will help them reach their potential, no matter what age they are – just like other parents do.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are determined to widen access to university and, by the end of this parliament, we will increase funding for student support by over £20 million per year. This includes an investment this year of more than £5m to increase the bursary for every care-experienced young person at college or university to £8,100 – equivalent to the Living Wage.
“Careful consideration was given to the eligibility for the bursary based on a range of evidence and discussions with stakeholders.”
The spokeswoman added: “The age limit aligns with current legislation to provide ‘continuing care’ to care leavers up to the age of 26 – a provision that received cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament.”