Cambridge to offer free foundation year to disadvantaged students

The programme will be offered by 11 colleges for up to 50 students starting in 2022

A selection of Cambridge colleges will be offering a free foundation year to 50 disadvantaged students from October 2022 in a move to widen access.

The full-time, residential programme will be aimed at students who wish to study arts, humanities, or social sciences. Suitable attainment during the foundation year will then allow students to progress onto 18 different degree courses at Cambridge, including English, history, law, and MML, without having to go through the usual application process.

The course will be offered from October 2022 at 11 Cambridge colleges. The colleges due to take part in the scheme are: Downing, Fitzwilliam, Girton, Gonville & Caius, Homerton, Lucy Cavendish, Murray Edwards, Newnham, Sidney Sussex, St Edmund’s, and Wolfson with Queens’ and St John’s planning to join the scheme in October 2023.

The programme will be aimed at disadvantaged students, those who have been in care, those estranged from their families, or those who have missed significant periods of learning due to health issues.

Students’ eligibility for the programme will be assessed under the categories of “Individual Characteristics”, such as late diagnosis of special educational needs; “Family Characteristics”, such as eligibility for free school meals; and “School/College Characteristics”, such as attending a school or college with below-average attainment.

The typical offer for the foundation year will be 120 UCAS tariff points, the equivalent of BBB at A-level. This compares with the typical offer for arts, humanities, and social sciences degree courses of A*AA.

The scheme will be funded by a £5 million donation from philanthropists Christina and Peter Dawson, making the course free to students who will not be charged tuition fees and will receive a scholarship to cover rent and living expenses.

The launch of the foundation year follows a record 70 per cent of the university’s 2020 undergraduate intake coming from state schools and during an academic year where the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately disrupted the education of disadvantaged students.

Students who partake in the foundation year will receive 14 to 16 hours of timetabled teaching per week in the form of lectures, seminars, and supervisions.

As part of the application process, applicants may be invited to interview and made to sit a pre-interview written assessment.

‘The chance to study at Cambridge should be given solely on the basis of passion and academic merit, rather than financial or social criteria’

In reaction to the news, the Access Officers at Sidney Sussex told The Tab Cambridge: “We are beyond happy to see that Sidney will be offering the Foundation Year Programme. Given the current disturbance to education across the UK, it is important to give students from all backgrounds, and especially those that have been significantly disadvantaged, the opportunity to access higher education.

“Sidney has been known for its great access work in the past and this only serves to consolidate how inclusive it is, as well as welcoming of everyone who wishes to study here. We do not only feel happy that the university is taking steps towards this direction, but also proud of our college for proving that the chance to study at Cambridge should be given solely on the basis of passion and academic merit, rather than financial or social criteria.”

‘Widening access and closing the attainment gap caused by inequality is absolutely vital’

Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, said: “The university’s work to explore new ways of widening access and closing the attainment gap caused by inequality is absolutely vital at a time when those the foundation year is aimed at – who already face exceptional disadvantage – are likely to have felt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately.

“Cambridge is committed to further diversifying its student body and welcoming all those who have the ability to achieve here, regardless of background.”

Feature Image Credits: Sophie Macdonald, Erin Visaya-Neville, Victoria Chapman.