Cambridge attracts more applicants and accepts more state school pupils

A bit of data crunching for this news story, as you can see from the numbers. A good use for my A-Level Maths, even if I am an Arts student!

Just under two thirds of UK students accepted in 2012 came from state schools (63.3%), a 4.5% increase on the previous year. The proportion of independent school students accepted, at 36.7% in 2012, compares with 41.2% in 2011. The success rate amongst those accepted in the state school was made up largely from grammar school students (33.7%), followed by sixth form colleges (26.6%) and comprehensive schools (24.9%).

The success rate, comparing applications and acceptances, in state schools stood at 27.1%, while independent schools still dominate with 33.7%. However, it was revealed that the number of privately-schooled students is the lowest figure for 30 years.

The University says that it remained on target to meet its goal of a more representative undergraduate body, achieved without compromising academic standards.

They attribute today’s figures to its bursary schemes, outreach programmes and transparent admissions decisions.  The University invests around £2.7 million a year in outreach initiatives across the UK designed to identify and engage with students from under-represented groups, and encourage them to apply.

Dr Mike Sewell, admissions director for the University, said: “Our commitment to fair admissions makes this available to students from all backgrounds, who succeed in their application because they have demonstrated academic excellence.”

He added: “The collegiate University works hard to reach talented and ambitious students throughout the UK, talk with them about why they should consider Cambridge, and tackle the barriers that might put them off applying.”

There was a 2% increase in the number of applications to the University, standing at 15,701 for 2012, the year that the maximum £9,000 tuition fees were introduced. Acceptances rose by 5%, from 3,437 in 2012, 160 more than in 2011. 97.4% of successful applicants achieved no less than A*AA, the standard offer for most undergraduate courses.

Geographically, 37.4% of applications came from overseas, with the Greater London area in second place at 14.6%. The regions with the lowest percentages of applications include Northern Ireland (1.3%), the North East (1.5%) and Wales (1.7%).

In addition, the number of students who declared they had an ethnic minority background or ‘other’ also increased to 16.4% in 2012, compared to 15% in 2011. With regards to gender, the male to female ratio remained unchanged at 54:46.

Subjects with the highest application success rate include Classics (46.9%), Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic (43.9%) and Theology (41%). Subjects nearer the bottom of the list include Architecture (9.9%), Economics (12.9%)

There was some variation in the percentage of state school students accepted by college. Trinity was made up of 50.8% students coming from state schools, compared to 76.1% at King’s.

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Cambridge disputes government findings in A-level reform row

The University of Cambridge has waded into the row surrounding the government’s plans to reform A-Levels by arguing that they are a better predictor of success than GCSEs, whilst government research today suggests the opposite.

The university’s comments go against research by the Department of Education that found that GCSEs were a better predictor of success at university than AS-level exams. According to the DoE, these findings justify the proposed shake-up to A-Levels in their current form. The university argues that they will “jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access”.

Today’s developments come amid the continuing row over how best to test 16-18-year-old pupils in England. The University of Cambridge insists that AS-Level grades are used by admissions tutors when making provisional offers to sixth-form students. A spokesman said that the university’s own research concluded that AS-Levels are “conclusively” a “better predictor of success than GCSEs”.

The spokesman continued: “This is about more than just the admissions process. Loss of AS impacts on student choice, flexibility and deprives them of the chance to apply to university with confidence.

“AS examinations taken at the end of year 12 benefit students by permitting breadth and flexibility of subject-choice in the sixth form. They help students to make properly informed and appropriate choices about university applications, boosting those who lack confidence.”

The schools minister, David Laws, has argued in a letter to Labour that concerns over changes to AS-levels will harm university admissions are unfounded. The government has argued that A-levels and AS-levels currently do not help students to develop a deeper understanding of their subjects.

Starting from 2015, the government says AS-levels will not count towards full A-levels. They will continue to exist, though an A-Level grade will be determined by a linear exam sat after two years in the sixth form.

The spokesman added that some 10% of Cambridge entrants do very well at AS-level despite poor GCSE performance.

“If offers were to be based on GCSE results these students would not present a true picture of their ability, nor of their positive progress in sixth form. Around 75% of this group come from state schools and colleges.”

Labour has pledged to reverse many of the changes proposed by the coalition should they win the next election in 2015.

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Lily Cole to visit Cambridge for launch of new social network

A good news story for the week, which involved contacting former King’s student and model Lily Cole about her new gifting idea. Impossible is a new project to be launched in Cambridge this Wednesday, based on encouraging a peer-to-peer gift economy. Users will post wishes to a community of users that may help.

Model and former Cambridge student Lily Cole will visit Cambridge students this week to present a new social network, Impossible, which will seek to engender a peer-to-peer gift economy.

The smartphone app will enable users to post wishes, which will be shown to other users who are likely to be able to help, using such criteria as proximity, existing social graphs and matching skills. At the heart of the project is an emphasis on reciprocity – giving to a community who may in turn give something back. Its philosophy is: “Make a wish. Take a wish. Say thanks.”

On Wednesday, Lily Cole and the team behind the social network will meet with students at the Giving Tree on King’s Parade all day, answering questions about the project. The following day, on Thursday, a debate at the union will take place under the motion “This House believes an economy based on giving is impossible” with guests including the co-founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales, peace activist Genevieve Vaughan, David Halpern, Director of the Behavioural Insight Team, and James Suzman, Director Corporate Affairs at De Beers.

Talking about the new social network, Lily Cole said: “The name Impossible plays on the idea that it is a very utopian proposition. But I do believe in people, and I believe that it might work.”

The service will run initially for use by Cambridge students only as a beta service before being rolled out nationally later this year. The app is available to download for iPhone now by searching for *impossible* in the App Store (or using the following link, as well as online.

“Imagine if kindness was our currency,” Impossible asks, “an alternative gift economy that aims to enable the building of communities in local areas through goodwill.”

It will operate as a Yunus social business, a company created for social benefit rather than private profit, in which 100% of profits are reinvested for growth and innovation, or to seed new social business ventures.

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Jelly wrestling garden party cancelled after online petition

This story proved to be very popular – we were competing with other student media at the time, but I managed to be resourceful on Facebook to get some more reaction to the news.

A jelly wrestling match which was due to take place at the annual Wyverns’ Garden Party has been cancelled, following an online petition which gathered 1176 signatures.

The proposed celebration traditionally involves at least two female students wrestling in a paddle pool full of jelly, one of many forms of celebration organised by drinking societies to mark the end of exams. The petition, started by a student from Magdalene College, described this practice as: “clearly sexist, misogynistic and completely inappropriate as entertainment for 2013.”

A statement from the drinking society, which planned to organise the event said: “In the light of the recent petition The Wyverns have decided to cancel the ‘jelly wrestling’ at this year’s garden party. We, as a society, are committed to ensuring all party-goers have the best time possible and understand the concerns of some of them.”

Nina de Paula Hanika, the creator of the online petition, wrote on the CUSU Women’s Campaign Facebook page: “Thank you so much everyone who supported and well done to The Wyverns for doing the right thing!”

On the page of the petition, Nina wrote: “I feel deeply saddened to not only attend a university where this takes place, but to be associated with this event simply by attending Magdalene, but it does not have to be this way! If you love the women in your life for their brains, for their wit, and for their contribution to society that has NOTHING to do with the body they come in, please sign and help me stop this.”

The petition encouraged many people to accompany their signature with comments. One supporter wrote: “It is simply backwards to permit this sort of behaviour to go on. Women should not be objectified for their bodies, especially not at the hands of over-privileged schoolboys.”

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Caesarian Sunday defies the headlines to end peacefully

This story involved attending the event, which every year attracts gatherings of students on Jesus Green as they celebrate the end of year exams. I merely wanted to report fairly on exactly what had gone on without hyperbole or making assumptions. I managed to talk to local residents surrounding the park who had differing but largely indifferent views on the troubleless behaviour, students who were gathered on the green, a litter pickerer with whom I had a very long conversation, as well as a police officer who attended the scene.

My non-reactionary piece was in stark contrast to the Daily Mail, which tried to conflate having fun with blanket disgust and outlandish behaviour. The only criminal acts I encountered were several acts of public indecency, namely urinating in public. By and large, and as my photo of the event illustrated, there were friendly, harmless gatherings of friends in circles chatting and enjoying each other’s company.

Caesarian Sunday ended peacefully in the area of Jesus Green yesterday, proving to be far less raucous than previous years, when more extreme behaviour grabbed the headlines in national press. Most students gathered in groups of varied sizes starting from around midday, causing no trouble, and enjoying the sunny weather, by meeting friends and eating and drinking. Others were seen playing Frisbee, or sitting to chat amongst themselves.

By the early afternoon, two females had been handed penalty notices for anti-social behaviour, specifically urinating in public, and told to leave the area. It is not known whether either attends the University of Cambridge.

Sgt Andrea Gilbert, of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, who was leading the police presence in Jesus Green, was happy with how the day had gone, with a pleasant atmosphere largely free of trouble. She spoke of the two main priorities for the police, both the atmosphere and the rubbish – neither of which appeared to pose any problems. She wished for those either attending the event or not to enjoy the space and the weather in peace, and was hopeful that the event would remain orderly for the rest of the afternoon.

David, who was overseeing the task of clearing up rubbish from the area, spoke of how positive the day had been. He said the event made good use of the open, green space, and that the rubbish in the park didn’t differ greatly from levels seen during any other weekend, and that there would be little extra cost for the council in cleaning up. He also wished for coverage of the event to dispel overly negative stereotypes which Caesarian Sunday has come to evoke in recent years through unfair press coverage, according to him.

Students were encouraged to use red bin bags that were provided by the council to dispose of their rubbish responsibly – it is the first year that such bags have been distributed.

A couple with two children who live nearby were not aware of the event happening until they entered the park and were content with the conduct of students. Many families with children were also enjoying the outdoors, making the most of the pleasant weather.

The police presence, whose role seemed to be nothing more than keeping an eye on the groups of students from around the perimeter of the space, was reasonably minimal.

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Science Report – a weekly round-up of science news in Cambridge

I was keen to showcase Cambridge’s great position as a universiy which innovates to a large degree in scientific research, and so I went about creating a new weekly round-up of science news, namely Science Report. I wanted to open up the stories and make them amazing, without leaving them cumbersome or excessively heavy to read. A solution to this was a series of neat summaries of the week’s science news, with photos and easy-to-understand text. The new feature seemed to go down very well from the comments we received, and selection of the stories was not too difficult to summarise for a non-scientist, although the choice of them was considerably large.

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