The Bridge of Sighs, St John's College, Cambridge

Free foundation year course opens access to Cambridge University

Up to 50 talented yet socially disadvantaged students are being offered a fully-funded, one-year foundation course at 13 Cambridge colleges as part of a programme to broaden the undergraduate intake at the university.

The multi-disciplinary curriculum in arts, humanities and social sciences leads to a CertHE (Certificate of Higher Education) University of Cambridge qualification that, with suitable attainment, means students can progress to one of 18 degree courses, including Music, without having to apply to the university again or have assistance finding places at other universities.

Funded by a £5 million endowment from founding benefactors Christina and Peter Dawson, the programme launches with the October 2022 intake and is expected to develop into a wider curriculum over time. The beneficiaries will be students who have the ability to succeed but have been held back by their life circumstances. They may include having missed schooling through health issues, those who have grown up in care or been estranged from their families. They may also be from low-income backgrounds or from schools which send few students to university.

‘The common link will be that their circumstances have prevented them from realising their academic potential,’ said Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope. ‘They will benefit from our personal approach to teaching and grow in confidence and understanding, and we will benefit from them joining and further diversifying our community.’

Applicants will apply directly through UCAS by the usual January 2022 deadline and will typically need to have attained 120 UCAS Tariff Points at school. This is equivalent to three B grades at A-level, well below the typical Cambridge entry minimum of A*AA. They will have to participate in interviews and assessments before being selected.

Those who succeed will receive a scholarship to cover tuition fees, rent and other living costs in line with the levels offered by the Cambridge bursary scheme. They will also have full access to the university’s student community, its societies and facilities.

Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, said the new scheme adds to Cambridge’s efforts to address the lack of diversity in its student body. ‘The University’s work to explore new ways of widening access and closing the attainment gap caused by inequality is absolutely vital at a time when those the Foundation Year is aimed at, who already face exceptional disadvantage, are likely to have felt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately.’

At the announcement of the Foundation Year Course, Christina Dawson said, ‘I was absolutely delighted when I first heard that Cambridge was launching a Foundation Year, and am so pleased that it has not been held back by global events. Indeed, the need for this foundation year has become ever clearer as the pandemic has exacerbated inequities and disadvantages. Peter and I are firmly committed to doing whatever we can to support Cambridge in addressing educational disadvantage in wider society, and are thrilled to have enabled the launch of such a ground-breaking and impactful programme.’

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