Cambridge University has launched a £500m fundraising campaign to pay for a new “transition programme” to encourage and support applications from talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds who might otherwise not get a place.
The scheme will include an intensive three-week bridging programme plus an additional transition year before a degree, to raise the attainment of disadvantaged students who have academic potential but may fall short of high entry requirements.
It comes as pressure mounts on leading universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, which are still dominated by white, wealthy students, many of whom are privately educated, to widen access to those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
Figures published in June showed some Cambridge colleges admitted no black students or accepted as few as one a year between 2012 and 2016. Giving the traditional start-of-year speech to university staff on Monday, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope, said: “Can we call ourselves a place of excellence if we are not fully inclusive of the most diverse talent? This is not just a matter of box ticking.”
“For Cambridge, this is an ethical issue. We can only expect to have full public support for our university if we are prepared to encourage top talent to pour in, regardless of where it flows from.”
Cambridge was unable to offer any detail on how many disadvantaged students might be supported, because of the current uncertainty in the sector pending the outcome of the government’s post-18 education review by Philip Augar, but the £500m will also go towards other forms of student support including mental health help for students facing difficulties.