Cambridge to implement "foundation year" to improve access

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After a spate of backlash from Tory and Labour MPs over its poor access record, Cambridge University is to announce a new scheme in order to facilitate access for black and minority ethnic (BME) and state-school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose secondary school education might put them at a disadvantage compared to their privately-educated peers.

The scheme, modelled on a similar project at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (LMH), will recruit students from BME and low-performing school backgrounds, and offer them a “foundation year” of teaching before starting their degree. Scheduled to start in 2020, Professor Graham Virgo, the University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for education, commented that the project was aimed at students who have “experienced educational disadvantage” whilst at school.

“We know we need to do more to attract those students who have the potential to study here, but have not been applying to us,” he admitted.

Cambridge had considered lowering its standard A-level offer, but eventually decided against this, instead choosing simply to offer extra support to those students who might need it most, in order to “help bring them up to speed, and ease their transition to the demands of a Cambridge degree”.

Alan Rusbridger, Principal of LMH and former Editor of The Guardian, commented on Twitter that LMH had been inspired by the Access team at Trinity College, Dublin. Their International Foundation Programme intends to level out the playing field for international students who have the “drive and ambition” to succeed, but “cannot” begin an undergraduate degree directly.

The year-long programme is designed to allow students, who have been given a conditional offer, to develop the skills required to “succeed and excel in a competitive university environment,” according to its website. However, this programme is only open to international students from non-English speaking countries.

So far, LMH is the only Oxford college to implement such a scheme, despite MP David Lammy’s recent accusations of “social apartheid” in the university due to analysis suggesting that a third of all Oxford colleges had failed to admit a single black British A-level student in 2015.

Government figures released earlier this month also showed that Oxford had the fourth-lowest state-school entry rate in Britain, whilst Cambridge had the fifth-lowest.  Prime Minister, David Cameron said it was “disgraceful” that only one black student had gone to Oxford in one year. However, the university later commented that the figure was “highly misleading”.

Oxford is also due to publish its access results for the 2017 admission cycle, with access efforts again expected to be higher than the university’s lowest figure in years in 2016, when 57.7% of all students came from state schools. The university has decided to publish its results divided into degree subject, with the aim of showing up the “posh” subjects, such as Classics, in which there is less diversity.


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