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Cambridge Admissions Office

Jon Beard, Director of Undergraduate Recruitment
Friday, 19 July, 2013

The University of Cambridge works to attract the best students from all regions of the UK, as part of its mission to offer an excellent education to all with the ability and ambition to benefit. It has however been noted by observers that the number of applications received and students admitted by the University varies by local authority. Why should this be?

Whilst there are many factors affecting rates of application and, as a result, on admission, three have a particular bearing on this question:

  1. Distance. All universities find that students from further away (or perhaps more accurately, from locations that require a more difficult, more expensive or longer journey) are less likely to apply to their institution. More popular institutions have greater geographical reach, but none is immune from logistical considerations and all find that rates of application decline by distance.
  2. Population. Every local authority has a distinct population in terms of size and age, and this has a profound effect on rate of university applications. According to government data*, in Hampshire in 2009-10, over 12,500 students aged 16 to 19 were entered for a qualification that was equivalent to at least one A-level. In Merton the figure was just 285. The effect on the relative numbers of students by local authority appropriately qualified to apply to university is self-evident.
  3. Attainment. This is the key factor affecting rates of application to selective institutions, and it varies significantly by local authority. For example, 2009-10 data* shows that on average 12.4% of English A-level candidates secured at least AAA at A-level. However in Reading the figure was 35.1% and in Knowsley it was 1.4%. Unsurprisingly analysis shows that there is an extremely high correlation between local authorities that produce the highest number of students securing AAA, and local authorities that produce large numbers of Cambridge applicants*.

Crucially, once they have applied, the success rate of similarly qualified candidates is broadly the same regardless of where in the UK they are from: approximately one in four. Variability does appear by region – success rates ranged from 22.3% in Wales to 30.1% in the South East in 2012 – but this has nothing to do with location. In that same year applicants from the West Midlands (29.3%) and Northern Ireland (28.6%) recorded a better than average success rate despite their relative distance from Cambridge, both better than the rate recorded in Greater London (27.3%) and the East (27.1%). Any variations within this relatively narrow range are subject to year on year fluctuations and are influenced by the relative performance of individual schools or colleges within a particular region.

The collegiate University goes to considerable lengths to ensure that the broadest possible range of UK students are aware of what the University can offer them, and have access to advice and information about making a successful application. Every local authority in the UK is linked to a Cambridge college via the Area Links Scheme, whilst open days are effectively taken out on the road through our programme of Student Conferences which reach 10,000 students and teachers in eight venues across the UK each year.

* PDF icon Applications to Cambridge by Local Authority: Students Securing A*AA or better compared with applications to Cambridge

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