A UNIVERSITY’S commitment to support some of the most hard to reach people has earned a national award.

Sunderland University has been named as The Guardian University Awards’ ‘Widening Participation’ winner - recognising a university that has taken exceptional steps in addressing the low take-up of higher education among certain social groups.

The Guardian University Awards act as a benchmark for excellence and offer universities a seal of approval to endorse their ongoing work and are based on specific projects which have delivered services or work over and above the expectations of students, staff and other institutions.

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Sunderland has been recognised for its work in raising the aspirations of young adults in care - known as Looked After Young People (LAYP) – some of the most underrepresented people in higher education in the UK. The aim of the project has been to ensure LAYP are afforded the same opportunity as everyone else.

Over the past 10 years Sunderland University has finished first or second in the Government’s performance indicators for widening participation, supporting more than 200 LAYP as they have gone on to achieve high standards within higher education.

University of Sunderland vice chancellor, Professor Peter Fidler, said: “Sunderland’s student recruitment team has strived to give those from care the chance of a future.

“As a result of this work we are now recognised as one of the leading universities in the UK for widening access to higher education. Giving people with talent, regardless of background, the chance to have a life-changing opportunity lies at the heart of our vision.

“To win this national award is a great endorsement of what we have achieved as a civic university.”

Lesley Griffin, assistant director marketing and recruitment, added: “We have put together a fantastic package of support which we add to whenever we see another way to help care leavers succeed.

In 2008 the University received the Frank Buttle Trust Quality Mark for its work in supporting looked after young people. In addition to the existing support, over the last 12 months Sunderland University increased and personalised its support by introducing a bursary for students who have been in care, 52 week accommodation and regular contact.

A new post graduate care leaver scholarship of £1,500 a year for students who progress on to a Sunderland University post graduate course has also been put in place.

A new guide aimed at young people who have been in care has also been distributed to Local Authorities across the country.

Sunderland University acts as guarantor for students who have been in care who are applying for halls of residence.

As part of the personal support provided. care contact team, Megan Lunn and Dawn Prior, accompany students to open days, pick them up on their first day, help them move in and make sure they are settled - doing all the things parents might do.

This personal support carries on throughout the year from a cup of coffee and a chat, to support with job applications, course work, liaison with social services to donning rubber gloves to help students move out has been invaluable.