EXCLUSIVE: How Cambridge considered creating its first new college since 1977

The college, with upfront costs of £80m, would have been the first since Robinson in 1977.

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Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the University considered supporting a proposal for a new college.

Last year, Cambridge’s University Council received a “vision for a new Graduate College at North West Cambridge”.

It suggested that a new college might emerge out of Lot 5 in North West Cambridge, where 325 graduate rooms are already under construction.

The need for such a college is Cambridge’s “expanding graduate population”, which is growing by 2% a year.  Much of this new graduate population will be based in North West Cambridge.

Into a suburban paradise for aging graduates.

The detailed plan gave a breakdown of costs for the college and the University’s alumni and development office said it had “the potential to attract substantial philanthropic investment”, especially through “naming rights”.

The proposal included the following assumptions:

  • Accommodation for 500 students in total.
  • The college would “most likely” be named after a hypothetical donor.
  • Estimated capital costs of £80,000,000.
  • An estimated endowment of £12,000,000.
  • The possibility that the University would “gift” land at North West Cambridge to the college.
  • 1810 square metres of core facilities.
  • A £2m “high-end market house” for the Master of the college.

The next step for the proposal was creating a fundraising campaign and finding a “champion” for the project to work alongside the Vice Chancellor.

Credit: The University’s crack team of graphic design genii.

The plan, though, faced opposition at the University Council. The bursars of some existing graduate colleges called the costings “unrealistic” and pointed out that the expected 2% rise in graduate numbers at the university hadn’t materialised. Some criticised the inclusion of a graduate college as a “fundraising priority in the new campaign”.

The Vice-Chancellor has indicated that, while the proposals suggested by the working group won’t be pursued, “this did not preclude further discussion and engagement about the nature of the Collegiate presence in North West Cambridge.”

It has been suggested to The Tab that some of this opposition may come from smaller, poorer colleges, which fear that a new graduate college will harm their ability to recruit new students and secure accommodation on the new site.

A University spokesman said: “The University has planning permission for graduate student accommodation on the North West Cambridge Development. There are no current plans for a new college but the design of the accommodation could incorporate this option or annexes to existing colleges.”

The proposal comes after a previous paper, drafted in 2014. This paper, “Beyond Bricks and Mortar”, goes as far as suggesting that Cambridge could create multiple new colleges in North West Cambridge.

There’s literally a live cam on the website so you can keep up with all the construction action.

“Beyond Bricks and Mortar”, the 2014 paper, was written after University officials travelled to Sweden, Germany, the US, Canada and Holland on a fun road trip fact-finding mission.

It also suggests a “postdoctoral academy” for the growing number of lonely, college-less postdocs. This would be a cheaper, easier version of an actual college, or, as University minutes put it, an “independent institution with some of the properties of a conventional college but not necessarily bound by them or by any of the traditional terminology”.

North West Cambridge could one day be the site of a new college or postdoctoral academy.

The shrewd paper notes that postdocs with a stronger sense of community are more likely to be a “source of philanthropic giving” in the long term. A postdoctoral academy would provide “some of the traditional collegiate atmosphere” and tap into “coffee culture” with spaces for informal interaction.

The Tab, while interviewing CUSU President Priscilla Mensah and Coordinator Jemma Stewart, asked about CUSU’s knowledge of the proposal.

Mensah said: “To my knowledge, there are no longer plans for it.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where they currently, at this particular point, they wouldn’t come to be favoured by the committee particularly because they’re not planning to go forward with it. If you’re wondering, there was no direct consultation on that at all.”

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