A message from Olivia, CUSU Access Officer
It’s great to see that the University has committed to introducing a foundation year for students who have experienced ‘educational disadvantage’. Although the exact details of this are yet to be confirmed, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
There are many inequities within the education system that leave students unable to access top universities like Oxbridge: from black students being disproportionately more likely to be excluded from school, to only ~12% of care leavers entering higher education, to schools not being able to offer some subjects at GCSE/A-Level due to insufficient funding to cover teacher salaries. Such inequities grossly impact on the education of state educated students.
Cambridge cannot completely remedy these inequities on its own, but by introducing a foundation year it is actively acknowledging that they exist and is trying to do something about this through more equitable efforts. Cambridge does contextualise data (for example looking at students’ GCSE performance in relation to their school cohort) but this is not enough. School visits, conferences and summer schools, are great at raising aspiration, by introducing young people to the prospect of going on to higher education/studying at Cambridge, but they do not raise attainment.
Once here many state educated students struggle to adjust to the workload. Rather than seeing a foundation year as patronising or divisive, it should be viewed as a year-long ‘bridging programme’, a great way to help build confidence and develop students’ ability to cope with the academic demands of a university degree.
In the USA bridging programs which help students to make the transition from studying at school to studying at university are incredibly common. A month ago, I met with staff from the Engineering Faculty at the Ohio State University where a bridging programme for first year engineers has been running for over 40 years. Prior to matriculation, students are invited to spend three weeks on campus, participating in intensive academic classes where they cover content to support their learning as well as developing study skills essential for undergraduate studies. This support continues throughout their degree with academic skills sessions and career-related sessions built into academic programming.
It is my hope that like Lady Margaret Hall, Cambridge’s Foundation Year will be fully-funded, meaning that students won’t need to worry about costs. Many of the university’s alumni have benefitted from their time here which has undoubtedly led to their success – so why not ask them to support this initiative like Michael O’ Sullivan, a LMH alumnus has. Students on the LMH Foundation Year have said that they feel like a member of the university, like other students – they’re able to join societies and access university facilities like faculty libraries and the university gym. I hope that this will also be the same for students at Cambridge.
My final hope for the Foundation Year is that we, Cambridge students, are open and accepting of Foundation students while they’re here. After all, they are no different from the rest of us – they’ll be selected because they’re deemed to have ‘the ability and potential’ (to quote our pro-vice chancellor), because they want to be taught by world-class academics, and because they want to get the most of their educational experience.