Many really bright young people don't consider applying to Cambridge at all, whilst others consider applying but decide against it because they hear the myths that exist about applications and life at Cambridge. CUSU aims to dispel these myths and encourage applications from students from diverse backgrounds.
Access is one of the most important issues currently facing universities like Cambridge, and for good reason. With the increased fee system, EMA and Aimhigher scrapped, widening participation to make universities more accessible is absolutely central to ongoing government debates on the funding and organisation of Higher Education (HE) Institutions in the UK.
Cambridge University has what is essentially a big image problem when it comes to supporting and encouraging students from under-represented backgrounds. Despite being one of the top universities in the world, renowned for its research and teaching, the reputation of the university is mired by ideas that it exists only for an academic, social and financial elite that is beyond the reach of everyone but a specific prototype. This incorrect idea is often exacerbated by both the media and politicians.
Therefore the university is constantly aiming for fair and transparent admissions that are open to the brightest students, irrespective of background. Cambridge has made a lot of progress over the last ten years in becoming more representative of the population as a whole, but there is still a lot of work to do. For change to occur, applications and acceptances from students who are currently under represented need to increase. One of the most effective ways of encouraging this has been for potential applicants to meet current students through a variety of initiatives involving trips into schools, and trips to Cambridge itself.
CUSU Access Officer
In 2000, Cambridge students voted in a referendum to create the CUSU Access Officer to try and address some of these problems and to organise student initiatives from within the Student's Union. CUSU is unique in being the only Student Union in the country that has a full-time sabbatical Access Officer as well as other part-time officers making up the CUSU Access and Funding Team. The intention of CUSU Access is:
- to dispel myths about Cambridge by giving free and factual information
- to raise aspirations and encourage applications from those that are currently underrepresented at this university
- to create campaigns for current students, many of whom may have had similar reservations themselves, to give prospective students an honest image of their experience at Cambridge, and inform them of what life at the university is really like.
- to run schemes within colleges which are supported by JCR Access Officers
Misinformation is often unknowingly propagated in schools and colleges, and by parents/teachers, and it is CUSU's belief that students have the most convincing, as well as accurate, voice when it comes to talking about Cambridge.
Access at Cambridge
The emphasis on a lot of the work done by the University is increasing applications to Cambridge, however the more general benefits of widening participation across the sector and raising aspiration amongst young people are equally important. A lot of the work done by the faculties is not aimed at admissions, but at making the University a more open and welcoming place to the local community and to society as a whole. This work all has an indirect effect on other efforts to increase applications from under represented groups.
Fundamental problems with the education system in the UK serve to complicate university admissions. Inequalities in teaching and resource provision at primary and secondary school form the root of the problem which starts long before students apply to university. Educational background plays a crucial part in how students make their decisions about university generally. University admissions can only serve as a corrective to inequalities in earlier educational experiences to a degree; they cannot solve them.
Access is a very broad and general term, one that is used often without much thought or consideration given its current political capital, but also one that encompasses lofty ideals. It is undoubtedly the issue facing the Higher Education sector in this country, especially with a new tuition fees system, and it raises fundamental questions for Cambridge as a leading academic institution.
Get in touch with the CUSU Access Officer via firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more about our work or have any queries.