Proportion of black and minority ethnic students at Cambridge at record high

It comes as elite universities are under increased pressure to improve access to higher education for students from less-represented groups.

Spring weather at King's College, Cambridge
Spring weather at King's College, Cambridge

The University of Cambridge accepted record numbers of British students from ethnic minority backgrounds last year.

Nearly three in 10 (29.3%) UK undergraduates admitted to the institution in 2020 were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds – up from 27.8% the previous year, figures show.

It comes as the most selective universities are under increased pressure to improve access to higher education for different groups of students – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Cambridge’s data shows that 904 UK-based BAME students were admitted to a degree course last year, compared to 738 in 2019.

The annual admissions statistics confirm that Cambridge accepted a record proportion of state school pupils (70.6%) last year, up from 68.7%, after the institution increased its intake due to the exams fiasco.

There was a 13.3% increase in the number of students admitted to the institution – from 3,528 in 2019 to 3,997 last year – due to the U-turn on A-level grades last summer.

Overall, the proportion of British students coming from economically disadvantaged areas rose to more than a fifth (21.6%) in 2020 from 19.7% in the previous year, the figures show.

The statistics also confirm that the proportion of students from areas with low progression to higher education admitted to Cambridge last year rose to 14.1%, from 13% in 2019.

There was a fall in the number of applications from the North East of England and Wales, but as a proportion of students from those regions gaining a place, the university said the success rate was high – at 24.6% and 24.8% respectively.

Professor Graham Virgo, senior pro-vice-chancellor at Cambridge, said: “2020 was a challenging year across the higher education sector but I’m happy to say, despite the increase in undergraduate admissions, we were able to admit each student who met the terms of their offer, with no forced deferrals.

“What these statistics show is that we are meeting, or even exceeding, our benchmark targets.

“It’s encouraging to see the number of BAME students rising again. We have a commitment to seeing more students from underrepresented backgrounds here at Cambridge and this work will continue.”

Stormzy
Stormzy has funded two annual places for black students at Cambridge University since 2018 (Ian West/PA)

In October last year, Cambridge revealed that the number of black students starting at the university had risen by more than 50% on the previous year.

It said the generosity of UK grime artist Stormzy, who began providing scholarships for black students at Cambridge in 2018, has helped to break down barriers.

The award-winning artist is funding the tuition fees and living costs for two students each year.

Dr Sam Lucy, director of admissions for the Cambridge Colleges, said: “Cambridge is delighted to see the number of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds increasing this year, at a time when many of those students have been particularly affected by the pandemic.

“This is testament to their resilience and determination and to the hard work of colleagues in Colleges and the University, liaising with schools and their students up and down the country.

“Our outreach activities have gone online and we have continued to offer mentoring and tutoring support to applicants and offer-holders from less advantaged backgrounds, and provide freely available learning resources for all through our HE+ website (myheplus.com).

“We will do our best to ensure that our admissions processes take account of the individual challenges that many of our applicants will continue to face.”

Last week, Professor Dame Mary Beard announced that she will help fund two Classics students from under-represented backgrounds to study at Cambridge in a bid to boost diversity across the subject.

The £80,000 “retirement present” from the Cambridge historian will pay the £10,000-a-year living costs of two undergraduates from minority ethnic groups and low-income homes during their degrees.

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