The new admissions tests will charge a compulsory £75 feeLouis Ashworth for Varsity

“Backwards” new STEM admissions tests have been condemned by students and SU reps for deterring applicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

The compulsory tests will cost £75 for applicants from the UK or Republic of Ireland and £130 for those applying from anywhere else in the world.

The new Engineering and Science Admissions Test (ESAT) will be mandatory for those applying to the Engineering, Natural Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine triposes from next year onwards.

Students and SU officers have voiced concerns that introducing a cost for these admissions assessments will act as a barrier to entry for prospective students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While the University claims that a ‘bursary voucher’ will be available to waive the assessment fees for “UK candidates in financial need”, its eligibility criteria is yet to be disclosed.

In previous years, the admissions assessments for Natural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (NSAA) and Engineering (ENGAA) were compulsory, but free to take. However, now these assessments have been replaced by the ESAT, applicants to the same courses will have to pay up to £130.

State-educated applicants will be hit the hardest by these new fees, says Sophie, a third-year Engineering student at Homerton, who told Varsity: “I feel like this is one of the worst things to do in terms of outreach.”

Sophie commented: “I know a lot of people from state schools applied more on a whim just because you might as well try, and I think having to pay is a huge deterrent.”

She continued: “There’s a lot less Oxbridge support in state schools and I think if this was the case when I was applying I would have most likely not bothered because I wouldn’t have thought I would get in.”

Students have also criticised the scope of the ‘bursary voucher’ that the University intends to implement.

Kate, a third-year Engineering student at Homerton, told Varsity that the fee waiver will likely not have a large enough scope. She argues “so far it seems there will be bursary vouchers available for students on Free School Meals, but £75 is still a lot of money even for students who are not eligible for the scheme.”

“One of the biggest concerns for prospective students is the cost associated with coming to Cambridge”, commented Kate, and says the introduction of the ESAT will be “off-putting” for applicants.

She continues, saying that the admissions test is “shifting the burden for the cost of assessment from the university to students, without any real justification.”

This sentiment is also echoed by Negar, a second-year Engineering student at Selwyn, who told Varsity: “They’ve said they will implement bursaries for students from lower-income households, but this almost certainly won’t be enough. There are people who don’t get free school meals (like myself) who would still struggle to afford it.”

She continued, arguing that that the tests “will have a significant impact on diversity within the student body”, and that she hopes the University will row back on this issue.

The University has also claimed that overseas applicants will not be eligible to waive the assessment fees using the ‘bursary voucher’.

The SU has also criticised the changes, with the Undergraduate officer for Access, Education & Participation Officer, Caredig ap Tomos, telling Varsity it is “disappointing the university felt the need to introduce a fee” for the admissions tests where this was not previously the case.

Ap Tomos continued: “Though the financial pressures the university is under are substantial, it is likely this will present a barrier to students from disadvantaged backgrounds even with the fee waiver” and called for eligibility for the fee waiver to be “as wide as possible”.


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Paid admissions tests such as the Law National Admissions Test (LNAT), the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), and University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) are used at Cambridge to aid admissions into Law and Medicine, but these tests are also widely used by other universities.

Varsity understands that the new ESAT test will only be used by Cambridge and Imperial College, London and will not be used to other universities.

When approached for comment, Mike Nicholson, Director of Recruitment, Admissions and Participation at the University told Varsity: “The University of Cambridge and Imperial College, [..], have given careful thought to all aspects of the test delivery, including the cost of registration.”

They continued: ”There is no evidence that the current fee waiver arrangements that are used for the TMUA have acted as a deterrent to potential applicants who have limited access to financial assistance, and similar fee waiver models have been used for many years for other tests used for entry to multiple universities without evidence that students from widening participation backgrounds have been deterred from applying (e.g. LNAT for Law, UCAT and BMAT for medicine).”

“The fees will be reviewed annually, and as any profits that are generated will be reinvested in test development and supporting applicants taking the tests, it allows for the opportunity to develop the waiver provision in future cycles.“, they concluded.