Thomas's story

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I graduated in 2014 with a BA Hons in social work from the University of the West of Scotland. I also was awarded the UWS Amundsen Trophy while I was there – which is an award for personal achievement and endeavour.

My school experience was positive until I was about 14. Then I moved to a new school. I didn’t fit in, my behaviour wasn’t so good, and things were fractured in my home life. I was asked to leave, but they helped me get a college course. The problem was, college wasn’t as academically challenging, so I became bored. I needed the money so I took a full-time job instead.

My girlfriend at the time told me I should make something of my life, so I decided to go back to college. While I was there, my attendance was called into question, but a lecturer called Joan Purdie recognised that I was committed, and that my poor attendance was a result of me having to support myself with no financial help from college or elsewhere – I was still working full time, as a shift manager, at Burger King. If she hadn’t had advocated for me, I may have been forced to leave college and wouldn’t have gone on to university.

 

"The most surprising thing for me about higher education was realising that it’s not just about getting a degree. It opened my eyes to a world I might never have seen."

I applied to the University of the West of Scotland because they offered the most opportunities to care-experienced young people, which I thought was really important.

My greatest barriers to succeeding at uni were: finance and confidence. I had to convince myself that even though I was from a different background, it was still legit that I was there.

I did this with the help of my personal tutor – Dr. Lawrence Nuttal. He held me to account like any other student, but he also helped me see that I could succeed and keep focused – all in a really empowering way. I think he was the first positive male role model I had in my life. I struggled to maintain relationships with older males before, because my time before, during and after care was dominated by abusive older males.

I didn’t tell people I was in care when I started uni, but after a while I just decided to own it. I felt like I had valid things to contribute, from a different perspective. Also, my extended family have had social services intervening for many years, so I had that experience to offer on a social work course.

The most surprising thing for me about higher education was realising that it’s not just about getting a degree. It opened my eyes so much to a world I might never have seen. It broke down my prejudices and anxieties about people from different backgrounds. I became more aware about how to act positively and change structures. My university education gave me the opportunity to communicate in a way that was powerful and constructive. I was able to articulate myself and communicate my opinions better.

Uni is about preparing you for the world of work – it’s given me the confidence to go and be part of a professional environment where people view me as competent and respected.

I think care-experienced people starting higher education sometimes feel like they’re in no-man’s land, between two worlds. So maybe going back to what’s comfortable is the easier option. But you have to have the courage to push forward. Don’t give up – keep hoping and believing in yourself. Some people stay back a year at college to get the grades they needed to go to higher education. That’s fine – do what you need to do. Stay focused.