A University spokesperson said that the HESA benchmarks are ill-suited to "Cambridge's specific context"bdnegin/Flickr

The access targets set by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) have all been missed by the University of Cambridge, although a spokesperson for the University said there were more important statistics to take into account than these. 

The HESA Widening Participation Indicators aim to “provide an objective measure of how the UK higher education (HE) sector is performing”.  

These indicators include increasing intake from state schools, low participation neighbourhoods, and those in receipt of Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).

In 2019/20, Cambridge failed to meet HESA’s standard of 74.2% state school intake by 5.1%, sitting at 69.1%.

By a margin of 1.3%, Cambridge also did not meet the target of 5.2% of students receiving DSA. 


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Students from low-participation neighbourhoods made up 4.7% of Cambridge’s intake, falling 0.8% below the HESA benchmark of 5.5%. 

Even though HESA claims to be “experts in UK higher education data, and the designated data body for England”, a Cambridge University spokesperson says the data is “limited”.

This limitation, according to the spokesperson, comes from the inability of the HESA benchmarks to “include Cambridge’s specific context (e.g. very high entry levels)”. 

The spokesperson instead stressed the University’s own assessment: “The University exceeded all 5 of its widening participation targets for the most recent (19/20) Access and Participation Plan monitoring return, which is far more relevant, as these are considered, evidence-based targets agreed with the Office for Students.”