From education to employment

New research to discover more about the “invisible community” of academics who have spent time in care

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New @UniofExeter research will reveal more about the largely invisible community of academics who spent time in care when they were children.

The study will provide new insights into how to help young people in care to flourish in the school system and support work to encourage people from all backgrounds to go onto higher and postgraduate education.

Around one million adults in the UK spent some of their childhood ‘in care’, usually due to neglect, maltreatment or other difficulties in their birth family.

Academics who have been in care have reached the highest levels of the education system despite significant hurdles. 

The research, by Dr Neil Harrison, from the University of Exeter, is funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust. Care-experienced people who are (or have been) academics in the UK can complete a short online questionnaire at:

Dr Harrison’s analysis of the national “Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education” survey suggests care-experienced students have been only slightly less likely than their peers to achieve a positive graduate outcome – either professional work or further study – six months after completing their degree. They were significantly more likely than their peers to progress immediately into postgraduate study, with 25 per cent doing so.

He hopes to discover how many care-experienced academics there are, the disciplines in which they work and their roles. He hopes to find out more about the pathways into their career, their evolving identities as academics and the challenges that they have encountered along the way.

Dr Harrison said: “In interviews so far I have learned about the unusual routes that people take into their career and the importance of asking for help from more experienced colleagues.  People also talked about the continuing fear of stigma and the discomfort that arises from assumptions about who and what an academic should be.

“I believe that understanding more about the working lives of care-experienced academics is important to help postgraduate students to succeed – especially those with the greatest challenges.  It will help us to understand how to better welcome those who do enter the profession and enable them to thrive.”

Around 13 per cent of those in care at 16 in England go on to higher education by the age of 19 – this figure rises substantially with age, as many care-experienced people participate in higher education somewhat later in life.  This means that there might be as many as 10,000 care-experienced students in our universities and colleges.  Efforts to increase this number further have accelerated in recent years and they are now considered an important target group for outreach work.

Dr Harrison said: “I hope that my study will indirectly lead to more care-experienced people pursuing academic careers and adding to diversity in the profession.  I am also hoping that we might gain new insights into how to help young people in care to flourish in the school system, drawing on the life stories of those who did so in the past.”

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