Getting their house in order

September 2, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment

So it appears that my alma mater is cooking up creative ways of appealing to the kids. As part of their eternal  quest to encourage more state schoolers to apply to Cambridge, the powers that be have decided they need to revamp its somewhat staid, musty image and have contacted the makers of Eastenders, Top Gear and Dr Who to suggest ways in which the university can be featured. The possibilities for further promotion are endless: they could ask the papparazi to snap Lily Cole enjoying a night in Kings’ Bar, ask a few dons to take up residence in the Big Brother house, or start a viral internet campaign featuring Borat (especially since his last visit went down so well). They could do all of this, and they might even be successful in driving up state school applications, but the onus is still on Cambridge to offer them places.

I’ve said before that this thing runs in a vicious cycle; when the number of state school students admitted is low and getting even lower, there’s not much encouragement for bright kids who have the grades but don’t think Cambridge is for ‘people like us’, thus depressing the number of applications further and giving admissions chiefs an even more shallow pool of talent to pick from. The unfortunate truth is that short of shutting down private schools altogether (a proposal which would probably cause mass middle class migration, if anyone took it seriously), there aren’t any easy or quick solutions to getting more state school & underprivileged students into Oxbridge, particularly, as Heather McRobie notes, when the interview system already gives private school kids an advantage over their less privileged peers. But by ramping up their attempts to attract new applicants without being seen to have addressed why so few of them are being accepted in the first place, Cambridge’s access department does seem to be putting the cart before the horse somewhat.

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