National Grammar Schools Association
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Cambridge entry still favours private pupils

7th December 2001 - The Times

By Glen Owen, Education Correspondent

CAMBRIDGE University said yesterday that its efforts to widen access were proving successful.

However, the figures it released showed that 47 per cent of the places awarded to home students this year went to fee-paying pupil, even though they constituted only 42 per cent of those who applied to the university.

The proportion of students accepted from the maintained sector in the intake in October rose by 1 per cent, to 53 per cent, compared to 58 per cent of applications.

The figures suggest that state school pupils are still less likely to succeed at interview. King's College, which has a tradition of attracting bright students from the state sector, admitted the highest proportion at 78 per cent.

The lowest was Gonville and Caius, with 36 per cent.

Out of a total of 10,641 applications, including overseas candidates, 3,248 students were accepted to courses.

Nearly 3,000 applicants who had, or were predicted to achieve, at least three A grades at A level were rejected by the university - a fact that will be borne in mind by the Government as it considers changes to the school curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds to distinguish more clearly between bright pupils.

Nine out of ten of those accepted arrived with straight As, compared with 11 per cent of those accepted by all British universities.

A Cambridge spokeswoman said that the university believed strongly in the need to attract the most able students regardless of their social or educational backgrounds. "We hope that all the initiatives that are now run, from large conferences in venues such as Manchester United Conference Centre to smaller summer schools, open days and visits, will help bright students from all backgrounds to realise that Cambridge is the right place for them." She said.

"The purpose of interviews is primarily to find out more about the students than can be read on the application form.

"While assessing the student's abilities and potential, interviews also try to find out what the student possesses other than exam grades. "Many students have, or are predicted, all A grades, and we need to see beyond that."

She added that almost everyone who applied was invited for an interview.

The university has introduced a range of bursaries designed to offer financial support for students from poor to socio-economic backgrounds.

"We have built up a dedicated school liaison team who, among with the colleges, departments and students themselves, run a variety of access initiatives." The spokeswoman added.