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Education Quality and Policy Office


The Review will be an evidence-led and consultative process; the Committee is undertaking its work with no preconceived views about the outcomes and wishes to consult widely with members of the Collegiate University who have involvement or interest in undergraduate admissions and outreach.  The Committee will also seek the views of selected other UK and international HEIs, current students and prospective applicants, plus a range of other external bodies such as schools and third sector organisations.  The purpose of the consultation is to harness the expertise of as wide a body of internal and external opinion as possible in evaluating current arrangements, identifying any issues and considering options and framing proposed solutions.

In the first instance, the Committee has identified a series of issues which it wishes to explore. Through consultation, grouped under subheadings of Admissions; Outreach; Governance, Processes, Costs and National Context (though acknowledging the links between subheadings), the Committee seeks to establish the extent to which current arrangements meet the tests set out in the Guiding Principles above, or whether there are alternative solutions that might better serve the needs of the Collegiate University, applicants and potential applicants. We are particularly interested, then, in hearing suggestions for improvements in any aspect of our Admissions and Outreach processes or such alternative solutions under any of the following headings:


  1. Cambridge has a College-led admissions system in which responsibility for deciding which undergraduates are admitted rests with Colleges, supported by the provision of shared services via Cambridge Admissions Office (CAO).
  1. Given the strategic nature of the Review, the Committee wishes to consider the pros and cons of the College-based model.  From your perspective what are the advantages of this model?  Are there any disadvantages?
  2. Are there elements of the admissions process that would benefit from greater coordination/standardisation across Colleges and with University Faculties and Departments?
  1. The current system for applications results in wide variations of applicant numbers across Colleges.  Notwithstanding the smoothing effect of the open application allocation and the Pools, does this create inherent unfairness to applicants, if applicants to College A have, or are perceived to have, a greater chance of gaining admission than applicants to College B?  If so, are there ways in which this could be addressed?
  2. Noting the distinction between assessing potential and evidence of prior attainment, how comprehensively/satisfactorily is a candidate’s potential to succeed at Cambridge assessed?  Are the measures currently used to assess potential applied consistently across subjects/Colleges?  Would a greater degree of consistency be desirable? Is there evidence that measures of potential correlate well with retention/attainment/career progression?

  3. Is there evidence of Admissions Assessment results being used differently across subjects/Colleges when making deselection and selection decisions? Do they add value to the admissions process?

  4. How effective are interviews in informing the assessment of an applicant’s potential?  Why do you think this?  How might the design and conduct of subject or general interviews be improved to ensure that they identify applicants’ potential in the subject as opposed to prior educational or cultural experience/privilege?

  5. Should there be consideration of contextual offers for WP applicants? What might this look like? What are the pros and cons?

  6. Are there elements of the admissions process that are at risk of unconscious bias?


  1. How effective are current methods of attracting candidates from under-represented backgrounds who have the academic profile to make a credible application to Cambridge but do not apply?  What are the barriers/disincentives that inhibit those students, and how might we overcome them?

  2. Cambridge and Oxford are unique among British universities in attempting UK-wide outreach coverage.  To what extent are Cambridge’s programmes aimed at raising aspiration/attainment and to what extent at attracting applications to Cambridge?  How is the effectiveness of these programmes measured, is the balance right, and do they represent good value for money?

  3. How effective is the Area Links programme?  Are there ways in which the scheme could be reformed to promote greater effectiveness?  Or should an alternative model be considered?  Consortia of Colleges working together, for example?  Or a more centralised system coordinated by CAO?

  4. There is currently no clear articulation between outreach activities and the admissions process (outreach participants are not flagged in admissions systems, for example).  Should there be?

Governance, processes, costs and national context

  1. Is the current committee structure effective in providing oversight and direction of admissions and outreach?  Are there ways in which governance could be reformed/rationalised to provide greater effectiveness and efficiencies? Is it clear which committees make decisions, and are decisions being made in the right place?

  2. Are admissions and outreach programmes supported by IT and administrative systems that are fit for purpose?  How are they perceived by applicants?

  3. To what extent do current admissions and outreach activities represent good value for money?  How should this be evaluated?

  4. National reviews are considering the desirability/practicability of a post-qualification admissions system (PQA).  How readily adaptable might the University’s current admissions system be in such an eventuality?  What implications might there be for any proposals resulting from the University’s Admissions and Outreach Review? What are the pros and cons for Cambridge of PQA?

The enquiry questions listed above will be added to as the Review progresses, and where there are particular issues that individuals or groups wish to raise for consideration by the Committee, messages can be directed (in confidence where appropriate) to Ian Jones, Project Manager at