UCAS has introduced a new flag that will immediately identify to universities and colleges whether an applicant is from a UK Armed Forces background (sometimes referred to as ‘Service children’). This flag will be generated simply by students ticking a box on the UCAS application form.
This is positive news from several perspectives.
It is a clear sign to universities that children from Armed Forces families deserve additional attention; recognising that many Armed Forces children have a unique set of experiences and personal skills that are highly valuable in academic and employment settings.
Of course, it also enables universities to consider applications against the context of some of the more challenging aspects of Armed Forces life. For example, admissions teams will be able to assess students’ achievements in spite of potentially higher-than-average numbers of school transitions or significant and repeated periods of parental separation. This will help universities see individual students’ potential, rather than only the black and white of examination grades.
For those students from Armed Forces families currently located overseas, this is an especially important opportunity. Where children accompany a serving parent on overseas military assignments, they are officially treated (from a higher education perspective) as if they were ‘ordinarily resident' in the UK for the period they are overseas. This means students in this position should receive the same benefits as those already living in the UK. The reality is that universities receive thousands of applications from candidates each year. Therefore, it is unfortunately very easy for students in this position to be categorised as an international student and less easy to remove them from this category. Ticking the Armed Forces box in the UCAS application will help universities identify students as ‘home’ students rather than international students for the purpose of setting tuition fees, and being eligible for student finance, which is not possible to claim if you are classed as an international student.
This flag will also help the many educational professionals involved to better understand what works, and what doesn’t work, to help students get where they want to in life. Our experience is that everyone has an opinion on what Armed Forces children need to be educationally successful. In reality, we do not have enough evidence to know. By simply sharing that you are an Armed Forces child in the application, we will be better able to place a significant piece of this jigsaw puzzle. Subsequently, we will be better equipped to help children from Armed Forces families in the future.
The ticking of this box is important, however by itself it is only a small part of a student’s story. The personal statement is the student’s opportunity to describe who they are and how their experiences have shaped them as they apply for a university place. Inevitably, many of will have had both positive and negative experiences associated with growing up in a military family - students should draw on these when writing their personal statement, as they may help illustrate the qualities and experiences the university and chosen course are looking for.