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Go Back to the List October 04, 2018
Cambridge University to offer poor students year long free course to give them a 'leg up'

Cambridge University is to offer disadvantaged students a year of free tuition after their A-levels to give them a “leg up”. The “Transitional Year” programme will be for bright but poor pupils who are offered a place to study at Cambridge but fail to achieve good enough grades in their A-levels to meet their offer. Professor Sir Stephen Toope, the university's vice-Chancellor said that his message for these students is: "Here’s an opportunity for you to come to Cambridge for a period of time for free - we are not going to ask them to pay, we are working with philanthropists to fund this programme - so that we have access to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come here for that extra year. “We are aware of the pressure that that would place on them. And we give them the opportunity to really just get a leg up to work with some of our academics to make sure that if they are finally admitted to Cambridge they are really ready for the programme.” Cambridge and other elite universities are under pressure to widen access and make sure students from poorer backgrounds are not put off from applying.

The Office for Students (OFS) had asked Cambridge to provide a "robust evaluation" of its existing bursaries system. Most students do not know about bursaries until they apply and are accepted. Sir Michael Barber, chair of the OFS has said that universities that fail to improve diversity will have their tuition fees slashed by a third. He said that he is “interested in results, not just plans”, adding that said if a university does not “keep its promises” to improve diversity he would reduce the tuition fees cap from £9,000 to £6,000. Prof Toope said the programme will not guarantee the students a place at Cambridge, but added: “What we will be able to pretty much guarantee is they will be able to go to a top university.” He said that tutors will assist students on the year-long programme to apply to other universities, so that if they do not “make the grade” for Cambridge, they would still have another place to go.

Cambridge admissions tutors already take into account a student’s socio-economic background when making offers. Students are assigned a “contextual flag” based on a number of factors, including if they come from a low-income household, if they have spent time in care, or if they have attended a low-performing school. Now this information will also be used as eligibility criteria for the new Transition Year programme, which the vice-Chancellor announced this week. “Cambridge can’t be an excellent university if it is not open to talent wherever that talent is found, all across the UK from every ethnicity and indeed from around the world,” Prof Toope told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “One of the issues is the creation of foundation programmes. So we want to ensure that people who really have the talent but might just not have had the same advantages as some others have the opportunity to get a leg up and get admitted into Cambridge.” This week Prof Toope announced a £500 million fundraising drive to pay for the Transition Yea programme, as well as scholarships, bursaries and mental health provisions. One of Oxford’s colleges, Lady Margaret Hall, has created a fully funded foundation year in which students study and then apply for a place at the university or another leading institution.

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Written by Camilla Turner,
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