Students from disadvantaged backgrounds who fail to meet the University of Cambridge’s high entry requirements will be given a chance to study at the prestigious institution.
A free foundation year – for talented students who miss out on the top grades at A-level – will be introduced for the first time next year in a bid to diversify the student population at Cambridge.
The launch comes amid concerns that disadvantaged students are likely to have felt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately amid lengthy school closures and a switch to remote learning.
Young people who have been in care, who are estranged from their families and those who have missed significant periods of learning because of health issues are among the groups the scheme aims to reach.
Other possible candidates include students who have been unable to access suitable qualifications, those from low-income backgrounds, and those from schools which send few students to university.
Up to 50 students will arrive in Cambridge in the first intake of the foundation year in October 2022 after applying through Ucas. Typical offers will require 120 Ucas Tariff Points – the equivalent of BBB at A-level.
The usual offer to students who want to study at Cambridge is at least A*AA.
A £5 million gift from philanthropists Christina and Peter Dawson will fund the launch of the programme and full one-year scholarships for all students who are accepted.
The students will study at one of 13 Cambridge colleges participating in the scheme, and they will study a challenging curriculum in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to prepare them for further study.
On successful completion of the course, students will receive a recognised CertHE qualification from the University of Cambridge – and with suitable attainment they can progress to degrees in the arts, humanities and social sciences at Cambridge without the need to apply to the university again.
Students will also be supported in finding alternative university places if they do not wish to continue to undergraduate study at Cambridge, or do not meet the required level of attainment.
Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, hopes the scheme will open the institution up “to a new field of candidates and transform lives.”
He said: “Students will be drawn from a range of backgrounds, the common link being that their circumstances have prevented them from realising their academic potential.
“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.”
In September, the university announced that for the first time, 70% of its UK undergraduate intake came from state schools, and more than a fifth come from what are officially described as the most deprived areas of the country.
Professor Graham Virgo, senior pro-vice-chancellor for education at Cambridge, said: “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.
“Cambridge is committed to further diversifying its student body and welcoming all those who have the ability to achieve here, regardless of background.”
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.”
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