King’s has recently announced an ambitious campaign, under the much coveted veils of access, in an effort to increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at Cambridge. The content of the plans outlined are extremely encouraging, however we should question the way in which these proposals are executed.
The £100m campaign is planned to be used to “enhance our capacity as a provider of world class research and to maintain our renowned historic buildings, such as the Chapel.” Half of the funds raised by this campaign will be spent on additional teaching and research capacity and the maintenance of the world famous Chapel and Choir.
Whilst the move towards an increase in the number of students from these socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds is wholly welcomed, the methods by which King’s have proposed to do this are worrying, and some questions should be answered to address these concerns. The campaign states that the “use of the rental income from [two new halls of residence will be] to seed a new student access and support fund.”
This means the very students King’s is proud to be home to, namely those who are state-educated, will have to bare the brunt of furthering access through their rent prices. This is worrying considering the recent hike in rent prices after a freeze, campaigned for by students years ago. King’s seem to be serious about continuing to improve their track record, but they should reconsider their funding model and priorities, and elucidate on the way in which they intend to move forward. Students’ living costs should not be the main source of revenue for funding outreach work.
The initiative itself put forward by the college to provide an offer-holder tuition scheme is a good one and should be commended. Attrition rates for socioeconomically disadvantaged students are high, with an increased risk of missing their offers due to their home and/or schooling environments. Any efforts to mitigate this by supporting offer-holders through their exams are a good step forward in leveling the playing field across the school sector. Project Access, an online mentoring scheme reserved for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, has shown early signs of success, with a high conversion rate for its students from offers to acceptances. Over 10 colleges have partnered with the third party organisation in an effort to reduce the number of offers missed by the targeted group of students.
From a cynical perspective, the decision also seems to be an anticipatory one: aligned with the university’s intentions to increase overall student numbers and thus increase the share of students at King’s. It is it vital that we note that an increase in numbers of students cannot be equated to widening access and participation and we should expect public assurance that this is understood across the collegiate university. King’s have shown this understanding by reserving places for disadvantaged students, but it should be clear that increased diversity will also be a priority in the non-reserved spaces.
In general, it should be said that the raw numbers of students themselves cannot solve the diversity issue, and if the systems we have in place are not sufficient to support an increased capacity, both King’s and the collegiate university as a whole should reflect on whether this is the correct way to address the issues at present.
Whilst the idea behind the access initiatives are promising, the currently proposed plan of execution leaves much to be desired. Colleges should work together, collaboratively, alongside the university. This would allow for a pooling of resources, to create a cohesive experience for students as a whole, across all colleges, and not a select few.
Together, we can truly drive forward access in a collective effort, and separately we risk further exacerbating college inequalities. We must be wary about spearheading campaigns in isolation, to further local priorities, under the guise of the greater good.