Sharry (left) and Woodvine (right) are running for the position of CUSU Access & Funding OfficerROSIE BRADBURY/COMPOSITE: STEPHI STACEY

Both of this year’s candidates for the full-time sabbatical role of CUSU Access & Funding Officer, Ashley Woodvine and Lily-Rose Sharry, had experience with the University’s access initiatives before applying to Cambridge.

Ashley Woodvine, a third year philosophy student at Catz, was the first student in her state school to apply to Oxbridge in ten years. This made the already daunting process far more difficult, as she “didn’t know how it worked” and “there wasn’t a lot of support” to remedy this – she tells me she was “far more worried and far more stressed about the process” than she should have been. Taking part in access schemes, then, “made [her] feel like Cambridge was a place [she] could go."

Lily-Rose Sharry tells me similar. A third-year HSPS student at Robinson, she attended the Sutton Trust Summer School, an access initiative she says had “such an amazing, profound impact on [her] life." Estranged from her parents and coming from a low-income, state-school background with care experience, she explains that she “didn’t have much self-belief” before this – she went “from being very awkward about that aspect of [her] identity to going the other way, and doing as much as possible."

For both Woodvine and Sharry, then, becoming involved with access work at Cambridge, and wishing to continue this within CUSU, felt like a natural step. Both have a wealth of experience in access work.

Woodvine, as Catz JCR Access Officer, has worked this year to “keep access issues in conversation,” working on projects such as the CAMbassador scheme and the CUSU Shadowing Scheme. She was on the inaugural Class Act committee, and is a member of the core InsideUni team, compiling and editing information on students’ interview experiences, as well as resources such as financial aid and summer schools. Woodvine has also worked at the Sutton Trust summer school, which she herself attended before applying to Cambridge.

Sharry has also been heavily involved with access at her college: in her role as Access Officer for Robinson, she set up her own access initiative for Robinson students, teaching them how to deliver ‘Demystifying University’ talks to access priority schools. As Care Leaver and Estranged Students Officer for Class Act, she conducted a survey for Cambridge students to gather information about the support that is offered at each college, using it in discussions with the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education. She also says she has “built up a good working relationship" with the Widening Participation Office, having worked as a CAMbassador to deliver access programmes for young people in care. In 2018, Sharry was nominated for a Student Social Mobility Award for her work within Class Act.

Woodvine’s manifesto is divided into three main areas: collaboration, financial concerns, and application support.

She believes that there needs to be greater collaboration between CUSU’s access work and the Cambridge Admissions Office, beyond the Shadowing Scheme. She also hopes to reintroduce Access Forums to encourage JCR officers to work together and alongside the Class Act committee, and collaborate on Widening Participation programmes with faculties who have low proportions of state comprehensive students.

Her focus on financial concerns stems from her experiences working at summer schools and open days, where many prospective students are “really worried about how much Cambridge is going to cost them” and so she wants to make information on financial support more fully available to students. She also wants to improve the financial support available at Cambridge: she hopes to work towards resolving the financial barriers to international access, as well as working “to ensure that colleges adjust the bursaries and financial provisions for these students in line with any increases they make to rent.”

She also hopes to work on application support by addressing the issue of teachers not knowing how to effectively support Cambridge applications, by running a conference to teach these skills. She would also like to work on an outreach programme to support students from KS3 to Year 12, to forge a “familiarity with the University” for students who wouldn’t usually know many or any Cambridge students before applying.

Sharry’s campaign focus on different areas to Woodvine’s: “aspiration” before admission, “retention” after admission, and “preparation” for graduates, citing the help that her “own personal experiences” has contributed in her creation of these.

In terms of pre-admissions access, she hopes to offer travel refunds for Open Days for those from low-income backgrounds, not just for the “practical” help this would provide, but the “symbolic,” serving as an “invitation to come here” for prospective students. She emphasised her wish to work with other campaigns, such as the BME campaign, the African Caribbean Society and Target Oxbridge to widen access for young black people. On top of this, she plans to “work with the Disabled Students’ Campaign,” stressing that “widening participation involves disabled students as well and this is often forgotten.”

For students already in Cambridge, Sharry hopes to devise an optional university-wide Academic Skills Programme. “Access is not just about getting in, it is about getting on,” she tells me, and this includes the “emotional” as well as the more obvious “academic side.” She plans to directly promote the CUSU Class Act buddy scheme to incoming freshers, and, like Woodvine, is keen to make access information more transparent, planning to ensure Funding Guides, which outline available bursaries and scholarships, exist at every college.


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In terms of preparation for graduates, she recognised that, “traditionally,” conversations surrounding access have focussed on “undergraduates pre-admission.” She hopes to create an internal and inter-university Postgraduate Mentoring Scheme online to aid this.

She also has other ideas, wishing, like Woodvine, to create Forums for Access. Following in the vein of information transparency, she would like to create a Guidance and Ideas Handbook for college Access Officers to help tackle inter-collegiate disparity. With her experience as a Care Leaver and Estranged Students Officer, Sharry would like to promote existing access initiatives to social care services and charities supporting looked after children.

Both candidates have put forward proposals which focus largely on issues of transparency, intercollegiate disparity, and addressing the nuances of the access debate. Their strong, personal commitments to their campaigns indicate their keen motivation, an enthusiasm which will be interesting to watch play out over the course of the coming week.

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