Mentors make a difference
Nkem had been working with young care experienced people for a while when she decided she wanted to go to university to study law.
Her reasons for choosing this was partly because she wanted to expand her skills, but also because she felt it would give her more credibility when dealing with the people she worked with, she wanted people to take her seriously. But she also wanted to provide the young people she worked with a positive role model, she wanted to show them that it was possible to go to university.
Nkem’s first contact with London South Bank University was when she went to see the designated advisor for care leavers in the Admissions and Recruitment Centre for advice about how she could get on to a law course the following year. She was surprised and delighted to learn that she already had sufficient qualifications to be able to start immediately. The advisor said she should apply there and then, and this belief that she could do it gave her the conviction that she could do it too.
Although going to university was exciting for Nkem, it was also difficult because she had to drop from a full time job to a part time job which created a lot of financial stress. The funding that the university provided for care leavers came in really handy, as it enabled her to buy an annual travel card, cutting the cost of travel.
A disproportionately large proportion of care leavers in higher education are from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
The university matched Nkem with a third year care leaver who was studying law who became her mentor. Her mentor explained this new language of seminars and lectures in an easy to understand way, and came across as sincere and genuinely wanting to help. There was great power in the fact that the mentor was a care leaver herself so she understood Nkem’s position. Nkem helped to set up a study group that was also a great support; it was made up of students on her course who study together regularly.
If you know that people do care, it makes you want to study, it makes you want to work hard. If it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t have made it through my first year at university.’
Action on Access are producing a Best Practice Guide for Universities. It will be published in Spring 2016
Nkem was also matched with a mentor from the City of London via the University’s City Opportunities outreach programme which works with care leavers, and has found this hugely motivating. She said ‘Although I don’t like using the word, care leavers ARE disadvantaged. It is said that you need a village to raise a child – well we don’t have that. I’m my Mum, and my Dad, and if I don’t work I don’t eat. But to have just a few people who believe in you and are interested in how you are getting on has really helped me.
“Living in London on your own is hard, and a mentor who makes you feel more confident goes a long way. If you know that people do care, it makes you want to study, it makes you want to work hard. If it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t have made it through my first year at university.’