In Depth

Cambridge admits highest-ever rate of state school students

Prestigious university says access initiatives are the reason for uptick in state school admissions

State school pupils will make up a higher proportion of this year’s University of Cambridge intake than they have for the past 35 years.

Figures provided to the BBC by the university show that 63% of the class of 2017 were educated at state schools - the highest proportion since the university began tracking education background in 1982.

Director of admissions Dr Sam Lucy said that the improvement was the result of the university’s programme of outreach work with state schools, designed to dispel myths about the Cambridge experience and encourage gifted pupils to apply.

Several new Cambridge students who were the first in their families to attend university spoke to the BBC about applying for the prestigious institution.

All of them urged other talented students from working class backgrounds not to be discouraged by stereotypes of privilege.

“People see the buildings and it’s very Harry Potter-esque, so they might think it’s very snobby,” new history of art student Rebecca Smith said. “You shouldn’t let where you’ve come from put you off.”

Despite recent changes, Britain’s elite universities still have a long way to go before their student body reflects the country as a whole.

In the UK, 93% of children attend state schools and they make up 90% of students in UK universities as a whole.

By contrast, at the University of Oxford - whose student body is the most private-school-dominated in the country - only 55.7% of students admitted last year were from a state school background.

While admissions offices take applicants’ socio-economic status and education history into account, the interviews-based system in place at some of most prestigious universities leaves the ultimate decision in the hands of individual tutors who - some argue - are subconsciously influenced by their own backgrounds.

“There is the issue of unconscious bias, where tutors don’t realise you are doing it but they are actually choosing people who look and seem a bit like them,” Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told The Daily Telegraph earlier this year.

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