Regional diversity, and why Cambridge lacks it

A new investigation into Cambridge Admission Statistics


In 2018 more students from Greater London applied to Cambridge than Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the North East, the North West and Yorkshire & The Humber combined.

In fact, almost half of the home applicants came exclusively from Greater London and the South East. The total combined population of these areas is 25.8 million, in contrast with Greater London’s 8.9 million.

I come from a small, unknown village in the South of Wales. It is, by a long way, inhabited by more sheep than people. As someone applying from a school where the vast majority of my year were first generation uni goers, most of whom chose to go no further afield than Cardiff, I did not expect to find many fellow Welsh students at Cambridge. Since being here, I have been shocked to find that my very low expectations were in fact too optimistic. There is an even greater lack of regional representation than I had anticipated. By the end of Michaelmas Term I had met the grand total of one other Welsh person. Now, half-way through Lent Term, I can happily say that that number has risen to 3.

Unlike England, neither Wales nor Scotland have grammar schools. In comparison to the number present in the South, the North has relatively few. Yet, despite this, grammar schools are included within the general state school admissions statistics released by the university. Of the 65.2% intake of state school applicants in 2018, 34% were from a grammar school.

Of the 163 grammar schools in England, 14% of them are in Greater London. In 2018, Scotland, Wales and the North East had the lowest success rates of getting acceptances. Not only did they have a low application rate, but of those that did apply, fewer were likely to get in than those from the South East. It is important to note here that neither Wales, Scotland nor the North East have a shortage of well-performing private schools.

For people unable to afford private school fees, grammar schools offer a higher quality of education, something that people in all areas of the UK should have access to. Those applying from a grammar school have a 34% chance of getting an Oxbridge offer, while for comprehensive applicants this figure is only 26%. Grammar school applicants have a 26.6% success rate of meeting their grade requirements, while comprehensive schools only have an 18.6% success rate.

Those who have access to selective, rigorously academic education are far more likely to be encouraged to apply for Oxbridge. They are also more likely to be prepared from the unavoidably competitive atmosphere. The one other student from my school to have studied English at Oxbridge dropped out after the first term.

The purpose of this article is not to criticise the existence of grammar schools, but to point out that their lack of distribution across the UK is contributing to our lack of regional diversity, and that their inclusion in state school figures is misleading. If over a third of state school applicants come from grammar school areas, then how can we fairly judge these figures arguing for the academic diversity of Cambridge offer holders?

While the state versus private school rates are ones that have been carefully addressed by Cambridge admissions, the colleges have yet to make serious moves towards widening regional representation. Acknowledging the inherent differences between grammar and other state schools, and including them separately in admissions statistics, would be a move in the right direction.

Photo credit: Vadim