Stormzy has helped fund two scholarships for black students in every year group since 2018 Frank Schwichtenberg

Cambridge has welcomed a record 137 UK-based Black undergraduate students as part of this year’s incoming cohort.

The 137 Black freshers represent 4.6% of the total number of UK undergraduates starting at Cambridge this year; a record high.

The intake of Black students this year represents a rise of just over 50% from the 2019-2020 academic year. At the time the 2019-2020 academic year also marked a record admission of Black UK undergraduates, with a total of 91 Black students admitted.

For the 2019-2020 academic year, the overall number of Black undergraduate students stood at more than 200 while this year there are now more than 300 Black British undergraduates studying at Cambridge.

Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo, said: “In just three years the number of UK based black undergraduates taking up their place at Cambridge has more than tripled.”

However, Virgo stressed “The University, and Colleges, need to work hard to ensure that once admitted, all students, no matter what their ethnic background, feel Cambridge is a welcoming place and one in which they can realise their potential and thrive.”

Cambridge has been extensively criticised for its under-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic communities, as well as for wider structural issues of racial inequality which exist within the University.

Varsity analysis of the 2019-2020 undergraduate admissions data revealed that 18 courses accepted fewer than 3 Black students, with Natural Sciences, the largest subject at Cambridge, only admitting 8 Black students out of a total of 419 home students.

Meanwhile the 15.1% application success rate for Black students, while an improvement on 2018 figures, was still well below the average success rate across all ethnic groups of 21.4%.

A number of factors are thought to be behind the increase in Black students applying and being admitted to the University. Professor Virgo praised the “Collegiate University, its students, and partners” who “have been working hard to reach out to potential applicants to encourage them to apply.”

Outreach campaigns and activities include the launch of the ‘Get in Cambridge’ campaign. The video series, which was published in collaboration with the Cambridge African Caribbean Society (ACS), aims at challenging misconceptions of what Cambridge may be like for students from under-represented backgrounds.

The University has also strengthened its ties with Target Oxbridge, an external free programme which helps Black African and Caribbean students increase their chances of getting into Oxford and Cambridge. The programme provides mentees with regular advice and support from a recent Black or Minority Ethnicity Oxbridge graduate.

Another factor which may be influential in improving the number of Black students in Cambridge is the “Stormzy effect”. The award-winning grime artists launched a scholarship for two black students per year in 2018. The musician’s high-profile support of the scholarships is said to have encouraged Black students to apply to the University.

Sharon Mehari, president of the African-Carribbean Society (ACS), welcomed the arrival of even more Black students this year: “As a Society devoted to creating a welcoming and empowering space for all black students, it is an honour and a joy to see that Cambridge will be ushering in its largest intake.”

She continued: “This speaks to the passion of the many individuals, organisations, and institutions who have worked to ensure that Cambridge is a place where black students have their academic ability, creativity, ingenuity and heritage valued. There is no doubt that this cohort of students will thrive and leave an impact on Cambridge in ways we have never seen.”


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This year’s record intake of Black students follows a wave of anti-racism protests over the summer, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Cambridge was not untouched by these demonstrations and discussions.

An open letter by Cambridge Student Union’s BME Campaign, which was signed by nearly 5000 students, alumni and members of stuff, called on the University and Colleges to improve access, stating “that the 3% proportion of black students that make up the undergraduate student body is inadequate.”

The letter also implored the University to “develop initiatives” which recognise that “the application process may hinder the success of Black and BME students.”