Robinson is taking the hit for the whole university and I am not OK with that
Robinson college was the only Cambridge college criticised in last Thursday’s government report which highlighted the significant discrepancy that still exists between students from private schools and state schools.
Robinson college is one of the most un-Cambridge colleges. It is no Hogwarts. In fact, we’re commonly referred to as the “building that looks like a car park”. But Robinson’s down to earth, unassuming vibe should make it appealing to a broad range of applicants. But maybe that’s not the case.
A recent report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission highlighted that only 47.4% of Robinson’s successful applicants come from state schools. This is a shocking statistic, but I can’t help thinking it unfairly misrepresents Robinson college as favouring privately schooled students. My experience of Robinson is that it is far from being an exclusive college and this statistic conveniently gets other more elitist colleges off the hook.
There’s no doubt we need to try and redress the fact that there are a disproportional number of private school students at Robinson, whether that means establishing a minimum state school student quota or something similar. But the imbalance that exists is not based on a bias against less privileged applicants. Robinson does not discriminate on the basis of background or schooling.
The thing is, Robinson is a pool college and it already suffers from a lack of direct applicants – often because applicants don’t know it actually exists (or they just can’t handle all that red brick). So, for instance, in 2014 Robinson received 255 direct applications compared to Emmanuel’s 739 and Clare’s 818.
It would be seriously unfortunate if future state school applicants actively decide not to apply to Robinson now, based on the negative media attention we’ve received. While it’s important to be aware of the real discrepancy between number successful applicants coming from independent rather than state schools, it isn’t productive to “name and shame” individual colleges.
It’s also unfair because it’s just not true that Robinson is a place that is unwelcoming of state school students. Emily Fishman, Robinson’s access officer, says “Robinson could be the college for access”, and with its liberal, unintimidating look and feel, it really could be. We’ve
We’ve binned some of the most outdated Cambridge traditions, which can seem elitist and off-putting. I haven’t yet been offered port and cheese and I mean you can actually walk on the grass at Robinson.
The news articles that followed the report totally ignored the significant student effort going into access at Robinson. The report suggests that applicants from the maintained sector have a “lack of opportunity to demonstrate their potential” – yet at Robinson we have been trying to address this for some time.
We have a committed access committee, who take tours, coordinate open days, outreach programmes and open days, providing information for state school applicants. We want to combat preconceptions about the University, and we want pupils from all schools to apply to Robinson.
The report reminded us that while only 7% of children in the UK are privately educated, those children end up constituting 39% of students at Cambridge. Although Robinson has been picked out as the worst college this is a problem much bigger than just us. It goes beyond Robinson’s admissions team and implicates the whole university.
It would be far more constructive to look at the bigger picture here, instead of pointing the finger at what seems like the most obvious manifestation of the problem. Just because other colleges may seemingly be filling their minimum state school student quota, it doesn’t mean the blame should fall on one college in particular. Much more still needs to be done university-wide to encourage underprivileged or under-informed students to apply.
People should know that Robinson really is an inclusive college. It’s not just the people, but also the (sometimes unseemly) modern architecture that shows our modern, forward thinking. Believe it or not Robinson college was named one of the “50 most inspiring buildings in Britain” by the Telegraph back in 2008.
As a college, we want people from all different backgrounds to apply.
But this involves commitment from the whole university. There’s no room for complacency.