Report shows family links to Cambridge


Students whose parents went to Cambridge University stand a much greater chance of going themselves, according to a new report.

Almost one in five undergraduates at the historic university have had either a mother or father precede them. And more than half of students knew a teacher at their school who had also attended.

Only 16 per cent of undergraduates come from schools which have no link with Cambridge whatsoever. The figures represent a blow to the university's pledge to broaden its intake and shed its elitist and sometimes nepotistic image.

The findings come in a survey conducted by the university's Student Newspaper which interviewed a representative sample of 472 undergraduates.

It found that just under half of all students come from schools where more than six of their peers went either to Cambridge or Oxford.

For the past 20 years Cambridge has been keen to shed its elitist image and has actively sought applicants from state schools. Just over half now come from the state sector - but the survey reveals that many of those have had some sort of link with the top-flight university through a relative, a teacher or their school.

Each year hundreds of students go into state schools to tell would-be applicants that life is not so rarified at Cambridge and that everyone stands a chance of being accepted if they meet the grades, whatever their backgrounds.

But Students Union president Matt Coakley expressed dismay at the figures.

'The survey confirms what we previously suspected. More needs to be done to reach schools and families with little tradition of sending people to Cambridge.

'Students and the university are working hard to increase access, but we need to redouble our efforts.'

Next week Cambridge's 15,000 undergraduates are to vote in a referendum whether or not to become the first University in the country to employ a full time access officer to attract the best students, rather than the wealthiest.

'Attracting the ablest is not an optional extra,' said Mr Coakley. 'Failure means letting down really bright people simply because of their background. That is not acceptable.'

Director of Admissions Susan Stobbs said she found the survey 'interesting'.

'We don't ask students at interview about their backgrounds and connections with the university so we don't record that sort of information,' she said.

'We certainly wish to encourage students from backgrounds which are presently under represented in Cambridge and welcome any support that students can give us.'

Ms Stobbs said that Cambridge, like all other universities, was keen to widen access to students whose families don't have a tradition of higher education.

'We have been working very hard on this but it is not just a Cambridge problem, it is a national problem.

'We are academically elite. We want the best students from all backgrounds but that is not linked with being socially elite and that is the message that often fails to come across,' she said.

by Mila Vucevic