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Students sitting on the lawns in the centre of the Edgbaston campus

The University of Birmingham has been awarded the National Network for the Education of Care Leaver (NNECL) Quality Mark in recognition of the work to support care experienced and care leaver students.

The University has been rated highly for the support we give to prospective students before they arrive, and how students’ physical and mental wellbeing is supported.

I realised that I've worked hard and I belong here

Zaynab, a care leaver studying at the University of Birmingham

Zaynab’s story

Twenty-year-old Zaynab is in many respects a typical student at the University of Birmingham. Smart and driven, she is studying for a BSc in Human Neuroscience and is interested in working in public health after university, potentially as a civil servant.

Zaynab is one of around 40 students at Birmingham who are supported through the institution’s award-winning work with care experienced students. Zaynab bucks the trend among young people who have experienced the care system, with around 6% of ‘care leavers’ going onto attend university.

Benefitting from support during the application process and throughout her university experience, Zaynab explains that despite her concerns beforehand the University of Birmingham quickly became home for her.

Zaynab said:

“I was really anxious before starting university, but I had a lot of help from teams at the University of Birmingham to settle in. There were a couple of socials that they did in the first few weeks of term and of the year and at no point did I think ‘Oh my gosh how am I going to get used to this?’ I realised that I've worked hard and I belong here.

“So there's a real empowering moment, if anything which was really nice, as it really felt like I was meant to be here.”

“Some of my concerns were about how I wouldn't fit in because of my experiences and background, and I did worry that I would feel that because it's a very prestigious university as part of the Russell Group and I thought, what if there's loads of people on my course who just don't get me. But I didn't experience that.”

Like many of her student peers from a care experienced background, Zaynab is strongly driven to give back, and has set up a charity that bridges support for people with autism and mental health following her own experiences growing up. Having just finished her second year Zaynab, admits she is more likely to use a free hour between lectures to work on a grant application for the charity rather than go for a drink at the pub.

Zaynab now plans to take a year on an industry programme through the University of Birmingham to further develop her charity work, having been granted a contract to develop peer support work for others who balance autism and mental ill health.

Mark of quality

Zaynab’s experience at the University of Birmingham is shared with other students who have experienced being in care, and recognised with a quality mark recognising the high standard of support provided.

Examples of the support that the University of Birmingham provide include offering year-round accommodation, a financial package to support with costs of university, and receiving priority choice and a welcome package on arrival including bedding and kitchen utensils.

Enhanced support is also provided through the Birmingham Scholars scheme, which sees students able to access additional academic and careers advice and can benefit from networks and focus groups of peers.

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham said:

“A massive thank you to everyone who is involved in this really important work, including colleagues in the outreach team, accommodation, admissions, student services, and careers, and a particular thanks to the Care Leaver working group.”