Access stats smash records

11 May 2009

The proportion of state school pupils applying to Cambridge has reached its highest level since 1981, a new report has shown.

A special issue of The Reporter April 20th 2009 issue containing the breakdown of undergraduate admissions statistics for the 2007/2008 cycle revealed state school applications had risen 8% since last year, while the number of state educated students accepted increased by 4%, rising to 59%. Private school applications have also risen 4%, but acceptance has fallen by the same amount.

Dr Geoff Parks, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges said: “Over the past decade our headline state sector indicator has increased from 50% to nearly 60%. We have been making steady progress, with inevitable year-on-year fluctuations. “We’re hopeful the message that Cambridge is for anyone with the required academic ability may be finally sinking in. We’re obviously pleased that the great efforts the University and Colleges make in this area seem to be bearing fruit.”

Jon Beard, Director of Undergraduate Recruitment added: “We’re not complacent about the work still to be done. The University really can be for anyone – but ultimately we can only consider those who apply.” According to statistics published in The Reporter, last year 98.3% had 3 As or more at A-level, a figure up from 97% in 2007. Only 50 (1.7%) successful applicants had fewer, and they still had 320-40 UCAS points (equivalent to AAB or ABB). Despite this, a record 5494 students who applied with three As at A-level were unsuccessful. The growing number of students offering multiple A grades has led Cambridge authorities to ask for applicants to have the new A* grade from next year.

Universities Minister David Lammy has warned that by doing this top universities risk losing public confidence in their admissions systems. Speaking at a UCAS conference, he said: “It is a shame that certain research intensive universities have made the decision to use predicted A* grades in their application process, before this review has taken place. confidence will be undermined if talented young people are rejected, only to find that their peers are accepted as near misses, thanks to more optimistic predictions but not achievement.”

The report has also shown students from the state and private sectors favoured different subjects in their applications last year.

Maths and English were the most popular subjects for the state-educated, receiving 59% and 57% of their applications from comprehensive students. Conversely, only 11% of would be Classicists were from state schools while 72% came from independent schools. Law received the fewest privately educated applicants, with only 15% coming from the private sector.  The statistics also suggest that applicants from the state and private sector had different rates of success in certain subjects. State educated applicants were most successful when applying for Archaeology and Anthropology (a 55% success rate) and Education (47%) but struggled in applications for Architecture (13% success), Maths (17%) and Veterinary Medicine (19%).

Independently educated applicants were also successful in Education (73% success), Archaeology and Anthropology (54%) as well as Classics (56%), while having less success in Architecture (15%), Economics (17%) and SPS (19%). Within most subjects, success rates varied only by 1-5% between the state and private sector. However, there were some notable exceptions. In Classics (30:56%), Music (32:53%), Veterinary Medicine (19:32%), Maths (17:37%) and Education ( 47:73%), almost twice as many students from private schools were successful in their applications than their state-educated peers last year.

Concerning all arts, and science/technology subjects, with the single exception of Geography, independently educated appli¬cants had a higher rate of success in 2007-8. At the same time, state educated applicants fared better in all Social Sciences except Law. Certain colleges were also favoured by students from different backgrounds.

St John’s, Magdalene and Peterhouse received the fewest applications from state-schooled students in 2008 (53%, 54% and 54% respectively), while King’s and Churchill received the most (83% and 79%). Downing had the greatest increase in state school applications in 2008, with figures up by 8% in 2007. Applicants from comprehensive schools had the highest success rate at King’s and Sidney Sussex (76% and 73%) but were least successful at Peterhouse, St John’s and Clare (42%, 45% and 48% of state-schooled applicants were admitted). The report also seemed to confirm the age-old belief that Arts subjects are ‘easier’ to get into than the Sciences; Arts applicants had the highest average success rate (29%), followed by Science/Technology (24%) and Social Sciences (18%). Overall Classics applicants had the highest success rate, with 51% of applicants getting their place, while last year Architecture was arguably the most competitive to get into, with only 10% of applicants accepted.

The breakdown also contained data on applicants according to their gender. According to the statistics in The Reporter, the ratio of success¬ful male:female applicants in 2008 was 52:48%, a slight change from 2007’s 51:49%. Although there was little difference in the number of male and female students gaining places at Cambridge last year, certain subjects attracted a higher proportion of male or female applicants, the report has shown.

In 2008 the three top subjects for attracting male applicants were Computer Science, Engineering and Maths, which had 86%, 79% and 71% male applicants respectively.  On the other hand, 85% of History of Art applicants were female, 79% for Veterinary Medicine and 70% for Arch and Anth, English and MML. Classics and Medicine (both 47:53% male:female) were the least polarised in terms of the gender of applicants. In most subjects success rates between genders only varied by a few percent. Almost twice as many female applicants were successful in Education, however (45:26%), while the opposite was true in Economics (15:17%). Moreover, about a third more female Engineering applicants were successful than men (33:22%).

Nonetheless, Cambridge is still struggling with criticism regarding its admissions procedures, with some suggesting that Oxbridge is still not attracting enough students from an ethnic minority background. NUS President Wes Streeting recently told the BBC: “I think when you imagine what Oxbridge is like, you imagine a place filled with stuffy, white, privately educated boys and you don’t imagine there being many black or Asian faces around. “It’s a travesty that some of the modern universities have more black and Asian students at their institutions than the whole Russell Group of elite universities combined; it’s a real concern and they need to work harder and faster.”

Even so, statistics in The Reporter demonstrate that the success rates of applicants from some ethnic groups, particularly those of Black Caribbean origin, have improved dramatically since last year. In 2008 application figures for this group only increased from 30 to 35, but the success rate of applicants more than doubled, with 15% admitted compared to the 7% taken in 2007. This is nevertheless far below the national average of 74%. In a press release about the new admissions statistics, Dr Geoff Parks commented: “It is important to recognise that the usual checks and balances will be in place to ensure that all Cambridge applicants will be given careful, detailed consideration and that this decision won’t disadvantage students from any one given background over another.”

Carly Hilts with additional reporting from Robert Costa