Cambridge to scour Scotland for young scholars

CAMBRIDGE University is attempting to attract Scottish students with a recruitment drive north of the Border­ targeting state school ­pupils.

CAMBRIDGE University is attempting to attract Scottish students with a recruitment drive north of the Border­ targeting state school ­pupils.

Two Cambridge colleges will visit state schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the new year.

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Admissions tutors and school liaison officers from Pembroke and Selwyn colleges will hold free seminars at Shawlands Academy, Glasgow, and Edinburgh’s James Gillespie’s High School in February.

While Scots get free tuition when studying here, those going to study elsewhere in the UK face fees of up to £9,000 a year. But despite this, figures from admissions body Ucas show there was a 1.7 per cent increase in applicants to English universities from north of the Border for the 2013 intake.

Some Scottish universities have been criticised for being slow to offer places to students from the poorest backgrounds, but leading English universities have sought to balance admissions by attracting applicants from a range of social class.

Dr Caroline Burt, admissions tutor at Pembroke College, which dates from the late 14th century, said “Scottish students have played a significant role in Cambridge’s success over the years.

“These events represent part of our ongoing programme of activity throughout Scotland which seeks to maintain this strong tradition with the next generation of Scottish students.

“We will be highlighting our unrivalled system of teaching, focused on the individual student, our outstanding facilities and relatively low cost of living, and our generous bursary scheme which complements the financial support offered by the Scottish Government.”

Scots studying in England are eligible for a non-income-assessed Scottish Government loan of up to £9,000 a year.

Many English institutions have a tradition of bursaries to attract poorer students, while some universities in Scotland have been criticised for not doing enough to widen access.

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The half-day events in February are aimed at fourth- and fifth-year Scottish students, providing them with the latest information on applying to Cambridge and life at one of the UK’s leading universities.

They are being held ahead of a student conference at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange in March, which will also be attended by Oxford University representatives.

Dr Mike Sewell, admissions tutor at Selwyn College and director of admissions for the Cambridge colleges, said: “Events like these information seminars aren’t only about us setting out our stall and providing information on what Cambridge has to offer bright and ambitious young Scots.

“They are also a chance for us to listen to Scottish students and their teachers, and find out more about what we can do to encourage Scots to consider us among their higher education options.”

Unlike Scottish universities, most students applying for a place at Cambridge or Oxford will be invited for an interview. Cambridge said it was keen to get its message across to state pupils that it understands and values Scottish qualifications, which would not pose any barrier to entry.

And it said its focus was on one-to-one teaching, a situation which is uncommon at Scottish universities.

The information seminars are the latest events in an ongoing programme of contacts and school visits, designed to give students and teachers in Scotland opportunities to get to know the university, ask questions and develop relationships.

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Sessions will cover the range of courses on offer, the requirements for entry, and explore in detail how students and their teachers can prepare applications which best demonstrate their achievements and potential, using fully anonymised application forms.

While the number of Scottish students attending English universities has always been relatively small, the number of those from south of the Border coming to Scotland continues to rise.

Figures released by Ucas in August showed English students made up 9.6 per cent of the total number accepted to Scottish universities, a 21 per cent increase on 2011.

According to the figures, students from England are 30 per cent more likely to win a place at a Scottish university since the introduction of higher fees.

Last year it emerged growing numbers of Scottish pupils were applying to study overseas to maximise their chances of finding a job after graduation. Despite similar levels of tuition fees and expensive travel costs, more were said to be choosing universities in Europe, the United States and even Australia.

According to teachers and university admissions officers, the move has been prompted by the downturn and the increasingly difficult job market, leaving applicants to re-assess their motivation for going into higher education.

Twitter: @chris_scotsman