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.
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.