Proportion of state-educated students at Cambridge at record level

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A record proportion of students starting at Cambridge University this autumn went to state schools, figures show.

More than two thirds of new undergraduates at the prestigious institution were educated in the state sector, according to early admissions data published by the university.

It means that the proportion of privately-educated students taking up places has fallen.

Around one in four of those beginning degrees this year are from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds.

School leaders welcomed the rises, but warned there is still a “long way to go” in improving representation.

Private school heads said they support widening access to top universities for all bright students, provided that measures of disadvantage are “sophisticated and intelligently applied”.

Cambridge’s initial figures for students starting degree courses this autumn (2019/20) show that more than 68% were taught at state schools.

This is up from 65.3% last year, and 62.1% in 2015.

Around one in four UK students are from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds, again this is up on last year, Cambridge said.

These could be youngsters, for example, from poor backgrounds, or from groups or areas that are under-represented at the university.

Cambridge, along with other leading institutions such as Oxford University, has come under increasing pressure in recent years to diversify the student population.

In its latest access agreement – a document which sets out the university’s plans to improve access in the future, Cambridge has pledged to admit a third of its intake from the most under-represented and disadvantaged groups by 2035.

In addition, it wants UK state-educated pupils to make up 69.1% of its intake by 2024/25.

Director of admissions for the Colleges at Cambridge, Dr Sam Lucy said: “We have been exploring different ways to identify talented students who will thrive on our courses and help to make our student population truly representative of the UK population; this has included challenging false perceptions that put off applicants.

“It is deeply encouraging to see that our actions to provide educational opportunity for all those who have the potential to study here are paying off.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are very pleased the University of Cambridge is admitting more students from state schools and from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“However, there is still a long way to go in improving representation given that about 93% of pupils are taught in state schools in England compared to the 68% admitted this year by Cambridge.

“State school pupils are also under-represented at some other high-tariff universities.

“These institutions are increasingly recognising that exam grades are a blunt instrument and can serve to entrench educational disadvantage unless they are understood in their context.

“They are heading in the right direction in trying to address this situation and we appreciate that it is a complex process but it is frustratingly slow.”

Mike Buchanan, executive director at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – which represents a group of private school leaders, said: “Pupils at HMC schools are, and will continue to be, highly successful in gaining places at the most academically selective universities, including Cambridge.

“But HMC also supports broadening access to such universities for bright students from all backgrounds, provided measures of disadvantage are sophisticated and intelligently applied.

“The reality is that a number of applicants from independent schools are bursary pupils from deprived backgrounds.”

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