Everyone should get an equal chance of a Cambridge education
Another day, another home-grown battle against Oxbridge elitism
Will Cambridge loosen centuries-old elitist biases and make more places available to disadvantaged students?
With the announcement from an Oxford college that it is set to increase its student intake by 10% to specifically target more minority or “disadvantaged” students, comes the inevitable question of whether the draconian Cambridge colleges will follow suit and wearily give in.
Few may disagree with the principle of providing those not born into a privileged, socio-economic security with a fair chance of a place at a top university. However, the fear voiced by many is a loosening of the admissions process will lead to a decline in academic standards at the top universities.
University College, Oxford announced that their plan to increase their student intake by 10% is designed to “ensure that very deserving students of high potential who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but who might otherwise miss out on a place at Oxford due to the sheer number of applications, have the chance to study here”.
If Cambridge fails to confront its poor admissions record on disadvantaged students then it runs the risk of letting valuable, talented individuals slipping through the net and perpetuating social inequalities which still run through our society. We cannot ignore the stark statistics which still continue to entrench Cambridge in the archaic privileges of the past: independent schools make up only 7% of the schools in the country yet the students in this very small minority make up a mind-blowing 37% of Cambridge students.
The student body of Cambridge is not sufficiently broad enough: underprivileged students require a greater representation.
As long as Cambridge colleges are aware of the need to fully integrate students into the university and colleges, there should be no reason to fear that these students are somehow ill-suited to life at Cambridge. Equally, students should never feel put off from applying because they do not fit into a socio-economic Cambridge “type”.
The university has still a long way to go in recognising the tensions between its archaic traditions to the more liberally minded, politically savvy and socially active students filtering through its hallowed streets.
Widening the intake of students does not have to mean a devaluing of the Cambridge degree or a loosening of academic requirements but rather gives disadvantaged students who excel academically the same opportunities to nurture their academic potential as their privileged counterparts.
A student should not be punished for the area in which they were born, in the school that they attended or for domestic problems; these factors are outside the applicant’s control and must not be seen to perpetuate further inequalities. The chance to study in a leading university should be open to all those who are prepared to work hard.
Academic standards will not fall but rather flourish under a broadening of the student pool to ensure that privileged and disadvantaged students alike are placed on a level playing field.
Admittedly, opening up more places for disadvantaged students is just a small step in trying to target inequalities in education: these differences must also be targeted from an earlier age to ensure that students with the drive and ability to achieve fantastic results have the confidence and help they need to find the success they deserve.
University is no longer the finishing school for the privileged few with the money and the contacts to climb the career ladder and Cambridge must modernise itself in line with other leading universities to ensure that its student body is world-class in its diversity.
Diversity means equal opportunities for all, not a weakening of academic achievement.