A selection of Varsity front pages from this yearVarsity Archives

From scandals and protests to the odd tale of the Chemistry department’s toilets — Varsity news editors past and present take a wry look at the last 12 months of news in Cambridge.

January: Sausage rolls & scabies

2023 started in glorious fashion as a much-missed hero for Cambridge’s hungry humanities students returned from its Covid-induced absence in the form of Sidgwick’s Buttery, offering various beige baked goods to all.

Not every ‘beloved’ Cambridge institution had such successful starts to the year, as the Student Union was beset by scandal - not for the last time of the year. Varsity uncovered that the SU’s brave fight to represent the interests of all had unintentionally allowed confidential information about students’ sexualities to be leaked. One hasty statement condemning Varsity’s “misleading” reporting was followed by an independent report that found the SU had made “fundamental” mistakes. Oops. The SU were not the only people inadvertently spreading things around the University in January, as Selwyn College was hit by the full force of a scabies outbreak.

February: Wee-K anyone?

Cambridge residents took to the streets, alongside Piers CorbynMichael Hennessey for Varsity

February was defined by the spread of colleges clamping down on student fun. St John’s College banned ents after a toilet ceiling was smashed, a move that was met at the time by much anger from students. When the famous John’s bops returned later this year, reports emerged that “wee-Ks” (think cheap booze plus urine) were being circulated. Varsity fears that John’s parties may be forever doomed by toilet-related chicanery. The growing creep of college rules could also be found at Sidney Sussex College, which introduced CCTV at their student-run bar. The college faced further criticism when a Varsity investigation found that Sidney had been “wilfully negligent” of disabled students’ needs.

The month ended with a visit from Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-vax brother, Piers, who attended an anti-congestion charge protest in the town. The planned charge was eventually scrapped, but not before Piers could condemn Varsity’s own journalists as playing a part in the plans of “global elites”.

March: If I could turn back time...

March saw extensive damage dealt to the frontage of the Corpus ClockErik Olsson for Varsity

March saw Fergus Kirman snag the SU presidency with a 10.8% turnout, while Max Ghose became Union President, albeit with a slightly higher turnout. On controversies, who knew time could be such a touchy subject? The beloved Corpus Clock was found battered and bruised right before its fifteenth anniversary. Students were left wondering what it must have done to deserve it after the police reported a vandal smashed the window, with seemingly “no sign of political motivations”. In the spirit of spring cleaning, Chemistry students were reminded of the basics of hygiene by the Department when asked to “stop defecating on the floor”.

April: First class degree? ChatGPT

April showered Cambridge with victories as it casually outclassed Oxford in the QS World University Rankings. In the spirit of evolution, Darwin proudly announced the world’s first ‘vegan’ May Ball. The Chemical Engineering department paused its deal with Big Oil. In the old teaching consortium, Shell, ExxonMobil and BP could “assist with teaching” and “provide input” in exchange for department funding. Meanwhile, Cambridge students set sail with ChatGPT, as Varsity revealed almost half of students use AI for their degree.

May: Royal Boos

Not everybody was happy with a Trinity alum's new jobFelix Armstrong for Varsity

The month began as the country celebrated a Trinity alum and former Varsity writer ending his 73-year-long unemployment streak. Not everyone in Cambridge was happy with Charles as King, with anti-coronation protesters taking to the streets. May also saw the withdrawal of a beloved Cambridge landmark as KFC removed a mock poster featuring the University’s logo after a copyright complaint. The parody poster depicted the University’s coat of arms, with the traditional lions replaced with four KFC chickens. KFC had “gladly complied” with the University’s request to use “alternative decorative elements”.

Speaking of cocks, Matt Hancock’s apology tour (and book promotion) reached its Cambridge leg as he spoke to an audience at Trinity, who were not allowed to ask any questions about his turbulent “private life”. In theory, students were permitted to ask why Matt now exclusively wears turtlenecks, talks like Alan Partridge and lip-syncs to Barbie songs — although Varsity understands that no one did.

June: Eton mess

In 'dog bites man' news, the Cambridge Union faced an election scandalLouis Ashworth

Bringing shock and horror to everyone who could afford the £200 membership fee, Varsity broke the Union election rigging scandal in June. Old Etonian Max Ghose resigned as President just days after stepping into the role, following “astonishing acts of electoral malpractice”. Ghose, who was also Returning Officer at the time, in charge of ensuring the fairness and integrity of the election, was accused of fiddling with the record of votes after polls had closed. The scandal rocked the international community, gracing the pages of the Times, Sri Lanka Weekly, and Eastern Eye. Arif Ahmed and Caroline Calloway, two more recurring characters on our news pages, also made cameos this month.

July: Graduate Certificate (of participation)

Cambridge's tourist hordes were happy to see the return of the Corpus ClockMichael Hennessey for Varsity

As our news team did their best to forget about our tiny university town during the holidays, the news rumbled on. Cambridge’s new Vice-Chancellor, who will be taking home around half a million pounds this year, commiserated the current cohort for getting the “worst-ever” bang for their 9-and-a-half-grand buck. Long before bedbugs became a worry for Trinity Hall freshers, the University’s best-loved critter returned to its perch outside Corpus Library after a long vandalism-enforced hiatus.

August: No room at the inn

In an unexpected turn reminiscent of biblical tales, Christ’s students struggled as there was literally no room left in the inn in August. Postgrads faced housing turmoil after the college declared a shortage of available accommodation. The college’s delayed announcement in a typical Cambridge fashion exacerbated the situation, forcing students into a frantic search for alternatives. As the Three Wise Men prepare to visit Baby Jesus this Christmas time, perhaps they should be consulted for housing tips. Or maybe it would have been wise to have asked Rishi Sunak for advice when he attended a religious ceremony at Jesus in the same month, although he’s yet to solve the national housing crisis.

September: Better late than never

Strikes of all varieties were a constant presence throughout 2023Felix Armstrong for Varsity

September saw the instalment of a long-overdue plaque at The Eagle, acknowledging Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins for their pivotal roles in the DNA breakthrough alongside Watson and Crick. While Cambridge is no stranger to tardiness, seventy years later the delayed recognition feels particularly belated in this case. This rectification came six years after an anonymous graffitist added “+Franklin” to the original plaque; it seems the Corpus Clock wasn’t the first attraction to be changed for the better on the street after all. On the theme of tardiness, the History department missed its marking deadline by almost a month, Cambridge finally committed to reviewing the supervision system, and plans for a congestion charge in Greater Cambridge were stuck in gridlock.

October: Oil and trouble

The police intervened after King's College received an untimely paint jobFelix Armstrong for Varsity

October began with a spooky start as a Wolfson formal got left in the dark. A month of cold and plague followed, as Caius had something under their nose other than snobbery: legionella. King’s went all Essex with a spray tan from Just Stop Oil, while Selwyn students adopted country attire with gilets as a defence against their limited supply of heating. Race rows continued with the Divinity faculty’s Don, while there was no race at all for new Union president Nick Davis. Still, there’s always time for electoral malpractice at the Union - as was shown in one Debates election. Unite divided with yet more strikes, as pants were set alight in Kings’ laundry room.

November: Exterminate! Exterminate!

Homerton students may find a trip with a Dalek more reliable than the U BusRobin Bunch with permission for Varsity

Soon nobody will want to stay at the Cambridge Uni inn, as November hailed yet more critter infestations – though Tit Hall was a bit trigger-happy in calling in the ‘bug guns’ before they’d actually found any. Women were the debate of the month as Homerton said no to a men-only gym hour, while John’s all-male sports society refused to merge with the College’s female counterpart, shutting down girl power. Forget bra-burning, burn a boat instead, suggested one JCBC Women’s victorious head. Magic was in the air this damp month, as Flying Pigs was set to reopen, and Homerton solved their silverfish crisis with a cucumber and cloves potion. One John’s student made his own concoction of wee and VK, as Daleks answered Doctor Who Soc’s prayers in a formal invasion: hip hip hooray! Cambridge’s big brain boffins solved river pollution with a magic artificial leaf, as Michael Gove caused more grief by promising to solve the City’s water supply problems by…2040.

December: They may take our manuscripts, but they’ll never take our freedom!

A Just Stop Oil protester mid-arrestFelix Armstrong for Varsity

Three data leaks, two climate marches, and a Paxman spy dream all splashed in December. An ABBA tribute flash-mob hit Cambridge’s cobbles this month, as our King’s College spray tanner begged ’gimme, gimme, gimme: bail.’ After being hacked in November, the UL was asked nicely to return its Scottish manuscripts - they’ve been underused anyway since Gaelic hasn’t proved a popular choice in the MML faculty. Paxman proved to us all that hatred of our supervisors never dies, as he sent From the Guardian, With Love his Bond dreams. Oh, what could’ve been? Still, there’s always 2024 for MI5 – although he has been replaced by a younger model on University Challenge.