CUSU releases Big Cambridge Survey Report 2016-17

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CUSU has released its 2016-17 Big Cambridge Survey Report, which reports on student life and satisfaction across colleges of the University. The report, which looked at the survey results from over 3000 students, focused on issues including course satisfaction, health and welfare support, financial undertakings, and the experience of minority students.

Statistics from the report showed that from the 3427 initial responses, it was King’s College that provided the most with over 200 respondents. Of those surveyed, 56 percent were women and 41 percent were men, while 67 percent of them were from home, 16 percent of them from the EU, and 17 percent from overseas countries. Respondents were also largely undergraduates (67 percent), while taught postgraduates and research postgraduates made up eight and 25 percent respectively.

The survey was circulated through the CUSU Bulletin, college networks, and social media platforms during the Easter break and term earlier this year, with respondents having to be Cambridge students during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Of the students who responded, the report found that 45 percent of undergraduates and 49 percent of taught postgraduates thought they received “consistent top quality teaching on their course”, while 77 percent of undergraduates and 65 percent of taught postgraduates felt that their course had reached their expectations. However, there was a particular trend of dissatisfaction with academic inequality across colleges, with some students expressing concern that certain colleges, particularly those ranked high on Tripos tables, had better quality supervisors.

The three lowest-scoring Triposes for this collegiate equality were medicine (18 percent), veterinary medicine (27 percent) and education (26 percent), while the lowest-scoring colleges were Hughes Hall (18 percet), St. Edmund’s (20 percent) and Wolfson (43 percent).

The report also found that 56 percent of undergraduates felt that academics were sufficiently accommodating, but this felt to 47 percent for self-defined disabled students and 43 percent for undergraduates with mental health conditions.

The issue of workload, which the survey focused on particularly, proved relatively controversial for respondents, with only 36 percent of undergraduates indicating that they found the University a “healthy and positive place to study”. This percentage increased significantly when it moved to taught postgraduates, with 60 percent of them agreeing that Cambridge was a conducive environment, and increased even further to 62 percent for research graduates.

However, the further breakdown showed that only a mere 24 percent of students with a mental health condition agreed. This might be attributed to the survey’s other findings on health and wellbeing at Cambridge, with the survey suggesting that “there is still a significant stigma surrounding seeking help or support at the University, especially for male students”. It found that 57 percent of undergraduates were confident in seeking help on academic matters, but that only 27 percent were willing to do so for personal issues. 81 percent of undergraduates felt they had received good care from their J/MCR welfare officers, but this fell to 50 percent for LGBT+ students and 28 percent of BME students.

The three Triposes that were ranked the worst for workload were architecture (23 percent), Human, Social and Political Science (24 percent) and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (26 percent).

A spotlight on the experiences of mature students found that they were more likely than the average respondent to feel their Tripos fell short of previous expectations, owing to reasons including a lack of support from college staff, insufficient contact time, and unequal supervision hours across colleges. There was also a trend of mature students being less likely to be involved with extracurricular volunteering activities, compared to standard age students.

With regards to inequality at Cambridge, the report suggested that “structural inequalities within society are re-made within the walls of the University, despite efforts to the contrary”. It also suggested that many students still felt a need to ‘catch up’ with others in subjects not traditionally taught at state schools, including Latin and Greek, and that many had pointed out the prevailing ‘whiteness’ of the University.

23 percent of BME students said, for instance, that their social background “had a negative impact on their Cambridge experience”, compared to 17 percent of white students. One respondent was quoted as saying, “Coming from Hong Kong, it’s definitely slightly harder to fit in such a white institution.” Only 24 percent of black British students, furthermore, reported that their social background had had a positive impact on their Cambridge experience.

About 50 percent of students felt that Cambridge was a prejudice-free place to live and study, but 46 percent reported having experienced here verbal harassment, and 42 percent having experienced sexual harassment. Of all the colleges, it was found that the lowest percentage of students who reported having experienced gender prejudice were St Edmund’s (29 percent), Robinson (36 percent) and Wolfson (37 percent). Murray Edwards, however, was found to have the highest percentage at 40 percent, followed by Trinity Hall (41 percent) and King’s (45 percent).

CUSU President Amatey Doku said of the report: “In a time of great turbulence for Higher Education, the importance of central student representation and lobbying not just the University but also on a national level is great. From rising costs, to welfare concerns to the experience of minority groups within Cambridge, the report is a comprehensive snapshot of what life is like for the thousands of Cambridge students and gives a great steer for the areas of focus for subsequent sabbatical officer teams.”

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