Policy and Practice: SAAS Care Experienced Bursary

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) Care Experienced bursary was introduced last year to support care experienced young people in higher education, and has this academic year been extended to those in further education.

What Members are Saying
While some local authorities have expressed positive experiences of SAAS bursary, there have been a few concerns raised by members regarding impact and implementation. Examples include: 

  • A further divide created amongst care experienced young people in terms of the support received: particularly between those still in placement or continuing care arrangements versus those now living in their own tenancies
  • Lack of clarity over whether the bursary should or should not cover housing costs
  • Concerns around transitioning into independent living after the bursary: particularly for those whose living costs are already met through placement and will receive the bursary in addition to Section 30 payments
  • Financial stresses on local authorities could potentially result in pressure being put on teams to cut-backs on living cost support as a result of the funding provided by SAAS

Many of the immediate practice concerns outlined above could be arguably attributed to the SAAS bursary being available to care experienced young people rather than care leavers specifically. This represents a policy shift that is beginning to reflect the changes in language over the last few years, which recognises that experience of care is not something that simply dissipates, or is left behind, but rather informs identity. This poses short-term practice challenges insofar as ‘care experienced’ is not (as yet) a defined legal term – and the development of practice has been shaped over the last number of decades around ‘looked after children’ and ‘care leavers’.

The bursary being made available to more young people with experience of care is a positive step, however clear and specific guidance from SAAS and The Scottish Government on implementation would be greatly welcomed: particularly around the expectations on what sort of costs the bursary is expected to cover, and how this relates to local authority support and section 30 payments for young people that are still in care, or continuing care placements.

A roundtable meeting was convened by CELCIS on Monday 22nd to discuss these issues and begin mapping out solutions: keep an eye on CELCIS website and social media for updates!


Background
Introduced in 2017 financial year, the SAAS bursary provides care experienced young people with a bursary of £8100 each year – aligning with the Independent Student Support Review’s recommended amount of minimum student income. Crucially this bursary is non-income assessed and non-repayable, as opposed to the means-tested loan with top-up bursary package that is saddling many Scottish students with a lifetime of debt. SAAS additionally offers a Care Experienced Accommodation Grant of up to £105 to cover accommodation costs during the summer holiday months.

The introduction of the Care Experienced students’ bursary – which this year now extends to further education as well as higher education – seeks to address some of the financial barriers faced by care experienced young people in accessing FE and HE, and to further deliver on The Scottish Government’s corporate parenting responsibilities. This bursary is available to students up to the age of 26, and is contingent on the declaration of care experience, alongside supporting evidence. A Freedom of Information Request shows that there were 565 recipients of the care experienced bursary in 17/18.

As with The Scottish Government, FE and HE institutions themselves have been extending the support available to care experienced young people in gaining and sustaining places at colleges and universities over the last few years, with institutions offering a suite of supporting arrangements. Such support may include: specific care experienced bursaries to assist with ‘hidden’ course costs such as graduation fees; guaranteed 365-day-a-year accommodation; contextualised admissions; and frequent, practical staff support. For example, these are some of the support mechanisms in place at Glasgow Caledonian University:

“As a care-experienced student, you may be eligible to access 365-day free accommodation for up to two years in Caledonian Court, our halls of residence close to the University”

“In addition to the accommodation we can offer on campus, you may also choose to apply for an accommodation scholarship with the Unite Foundation.  We began a new partnership with the Unite Foundation in 2017 and a number of students are now successful Unite scholars.  These scholarships support care experienced and estranged students with free accommodation 365 days for up to three years in a Unite halls of residence.”

If you have a background in public care or are leaving care you may be eligible to apply to the GCU Care-Experienced Student Bursary. This currently provides eligible students with £500 that can be accessed each year of your degree. From 2018 we also introduced an additional bursary to help with graduation costs, covering your graduation fee and gown hire.”


Both educational establishments and The Scottish Government recognise the unique challenges that face young people with experience of care, and are further cognisant of the need to provide material support to aid progression into further and higher education. The positive intention of the SAAS bursary is certainly clear – attempting to alleviate poverty for care experienced young people. However, there remains ambiguity around implementation of support from local authorities in particular.

Where to Find Out More:
Care Experienced Students Bursary 17/18 FOI
https://beta.gov.scot/publications/foi-18-01579/

FE and HE Discretionary Fund
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/family/education/further-and-higher-education-s/the-discretionary-fund-s/

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) – Support for Care Leavers
https://www.gcu.ac.uk/student/studentlife/studentsupport/careleavers/

Hundreds of Students Miss out on Bursary Scheme (Guardian)
https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/hundreds-of-students-miss-out-on-nicola-sturgeon-s-bursary-scheme-1-4774004

Independent Student Support Review Report
https://beta.gov.scot/publications/independent-review-student-financial-support-scotland/

SAAS Corporate Parenting Plan 17-18
https://www.saas.gov.uk/_forms/corporate_parenting_plan.pdf

SAAS Funding Guide 18/19
https://www.saas.gov.uk/_forms/funding_guide.pdf

SAAS Support for Care Experienced Students 18/19
https://www.saas.gov.uk/_forms/care_experienced_students.pdf

Scottish Funding Council College Leaver Destinations Report 16/17
http://www.sfc.ac.uk/web/FILES/statisticalpublications_sfcst072018/SFCST072018_College_Leaver_Destinations_2016-17_-_Complete_report.pdf

Scottish Funding Council Update to College Principals
http://www.sfc.ac.uk/web/FILES/GuidanceStudentSupport/Update_to_student_support_guidance_2018-19.pdf

West College Scotland – Support for Care Experienced Students
http://www.westcollegescotland.ac.uk/money-advice-support-services/care-experienced/