Cambridge leads in access schemes

Deputy News Editor 15 January 2009

Cambridge University is near to reaching its target for state school intake figures.

Amidst long running controversy criticising selective universities for not recruiting an acceptable number of students from state schools and less privileged backgrounds, Cambridge University has almost attained sixty percent of pupils from the state sector by 2010.

Recent figures show the current number at fifty nine percent – proof of the success of several access campaigns at the University.

Despite efforts from some universities to award more places to applicants from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds by spending millions on ‘widening participation’, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that many institutions have failed.

Cambridge University is one of the few universities to buck this trend. Staff, students and academics spend ‘thousands of hours a year’ on widening participation activities and attempt to increase it’s state school numbers have seen a significant rise.

The University has encouraged more applications and giving extra points to pupils from poorly performing

schools.

Charlotte Richer, the CUSU access officer, has called the fifty nine percent mark ‘fantastic’ but has stressed the importance of keeping goals realistic. She told The Cambridge Student, ‘the 60% figure is psychologically

important, but getting above this will be exceptionally difficult. National evidence suggests that only 63% of those getting 3 As at A level come from the state sector, and of these many will take subject combinations not accepted by Cambridge. Without good quality, individually tailored subject advice at post-16 level and significant improvements in attainment, I think the university will struggle to go beyond 61% state school intake.’

Charlotte Richer’s comments and the success of Cambridge’s state school intake follow recent praise by a right-of-centre think tank, The Policy Exchange, which has stressed how crucial A-Level guidance is when applying to selective universities.

They found that Cambridge university and LSE are the only two institutions out of a potential twenty seven selective institutions who clearly state A-Level combination preferences on their admission website.

Cambridge University’s figures are seen as especially impressive considering a recent report by The Social Mobility Commission, which stressed that low parental income and a disadvantaged background can significantly hinder success in education.

Charlotte Richer explained Cambridge had, in the past, concentrated a lot of effort on ‘people currently not considering Higher Education’.

Policies have now moved towards a focus on ‘making sure that students who would thrive in a top university education don’t write themselves out of the process by poor subject choice and advice at an early stage.’

Sita Dinanauth

Deputy News Editor