Cambridge University “definitely the most elitist in Britain”

Student Kelvin James has blasted Cambridge University, deeming them to be one of the most elitist universities in Britain. The controversial statement comes in the wake of Kelvin’s application being rejected despite meeting the required criteria for his subject. Leading him to believe non-academic measures were used to judge his ability.

University of Cambridge Campus – Building dates back to 13th Century – Photo – Adam Charles

By Adam Sinclair Charles

London, United Kingdom – Described by his teachers as a quiet and humble student, Kelvin James has uncharacteristically launched an attack on Cambridge University. Having achieved some of the best AS-Level results in his school, Kelvin believed he would be eligible for a place in one of Britain’s most prestigious educational institutes. But after his initial application was turned down he soon found exam results would not be enough.

– Cambridge was my first choice but I applied to Bath as a backup. You still need high grades to get into both and I mostly got A’s in my end of school exams so I thought everything would be okay said Kelvin, a student at Beal High School.

– I got the acceptance letter from Bath and I was so happy. But then I got rejected from Cambridge even though I put a lot of effort into my application and I met all the criteria, he says.

– They are definitely one of the most elitist universities because I checked their stats and they mainly take people from private schools. I understand they want to maintain their high status and I don’t know why I wasn’t accepted. But I just think it’s because I come from a ‘bad’ area.

newham crime

Newham Crime Scene
Photo – Adam Charles

Kelvin grew up in The London Borough of Newham, a severely deprived area rife with crime. Around 7 in 10 children come from low-income families, making it one of the worst boroughs for child poverty in Britain. Newham is also home to one of the lowest ranked Universities in England, UEL (University of East London). But Lewis’ academic skills have allowed him to set his sights on far more prestigious Universities.

While other 17-year-old boys are playing video games, watching football or wandering the streets of Newham, Kelvin has his head buried in books. His passion for learning has not only set him apart from those in his age group nationally, but from peers in his neighbourhood also.

– There is a lot of people I know who aren’t even going to University at all and the few that did apply haven’t chosen the best ones. I feel like the odd one out.

– There’s always a stereotype for people like me. Either because of the colour of my skin or because my family don’t have the best background but I’m working towards something better.

Newham Demographics

Newham is a highly diverse and multi-cultural area with ethnic groups comprising 65% of the population. Over a third of the habitants in Newham are young people under the age of 25. According to Aston Mansfield, only 28% of these young people go into any form of higher education while an even smaller proportion apply for universities ranked in the top ten (3%). Lewis truly cuts a unique figure in Newham.

Cambridge Graphic

Comparison between white and black applicants to University of Cambridge

But the government recognises this as a national problem. By putting pressure on universities themselves, they have attempted to make the best education more accessible for poorer students.

The creation of The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) by the Labour government in 2010 is a tangible evidence of their efforts. OFFA acts as an independent public body helping to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education. All English universities are subject to investigation by OFFA and must strike an agreement with the organization if they want to charge up to £9,000 for tuition fees (around €10,500).

Government Response

The Coalition government however, believes more must be done to improve the numbers of under-represented groups in the best universities.

– Here’s a fact: last year only 40 – four zero – children who had been on free school meals – in other words from the more disadvantaged families in this country – got into either Oxford or Cambridge, and that was a lower number than the year before, said David Cameron, leader of the coalition government.

– So we do need to make real efforts to say to universities: if you want to continue to get support from the taxpayers to educate our younger people, you’ve got to make sure that British society is better reflected in the people you take into the university in the first place.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg came under scrutiny for backing the Coalition’s rise in tuition fees after promising it would not happen. He is now eager to ensure that wider ranges of students are able to make it into the best universities.

– One of the objectives behind our controversial reforms in the funding of universities is we’re saying to universities: ‘Look, if you want to charge graduates more money for having the benefit of going to university, you’re going to have to do a lot, lot more to get under-represented youngsters from poor backgrounds, from black, minority ethnic backgrounds into your university’.

Studies carried out by the Sutton Trust show that students who receive free school meals (a system only used in state schools in areas such as Newham) are 55 times less likely to go to Oxbridge than those from independent, fee paying schools. As statistics show, diversity has not improved greatly in recent years. Only 40% of students who were on free school meals got into Oxford or Cambridge in 2012.

Cambridge University Believe They Do Make An Effort

As part of their access agreement with OFFA however, Cambridge University said that they do aim to attract the best students in the UK regardless of background. They claim the University works with a number of specific under-represented and disadvantaged groups across the UK to raise aspiration and to improve access to higher education. Including children in care, students eligible for free school meals and Black & Asian ethnic minority students.

Although Kelvin did not get into his first choice University, his high grades have made him an attractive prospect for others.-

– I got an offer from York as well as Bath. Providing all goes well with my exams in summer I’ll be going to Bath to study Economics and I’m really looking forward to it.

“Kelvin James” is not this students real name.

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