The assumption that parents can visit raises issues of post-admissions accessLouis Ashworth

The beginning of a new term always sees Cambridge full of returning students unloading eight weeks’ worth of belongings from their parents’ cars. Full parking spaces, inundated porters, and college hallways bustling with parents and siblings lugging boxes and suitcases mark the start of Lent term.

It’s easy to forget that not everyone has families who can afford the money or the time that a visit to Cambridge takes. Reaching the halfway point in my degree has made me acutely aware that parental love is often assumed to take very specific forms at university. One of these is whether they drop you off and pick you up each term. This assumption can be toxic for students whose parents or guardians - for whatever reason - can’t or don’t support them by regularly coming to Cambridge. Oxbridge’s college system, which for many students entails a termly room contract, exacerbates these emotions at the start and end of each term for those whose families aren’t there to help them shuttle their belongings to and fro.

This attitude is also reflective of the ongoing access problem in Cambridge. It exposes one of the greatest “invisible” issues: post-admissions access. It’s no secret that, despite the valuable efforts by access officers, SLOs, and liberation campaigns to make Cambridge a more diverse place, Cambridge students continue to hail disproportionately from wealthy constituencies, largely in the south of the UK.

“Neither bank balance nor postcode should be any sort of a measure of familial love”

Undergraduate admissions statistics from 2016 revealed that a quarter of the incoming year of students came from Greater London, and over a fifth from South East England – making them the two most successful of England’s nine official regions for admissions to the University. The geographical proximity of these constituencies, in conjunction with their comparative wealth, means parents of students from these areas are more likely to be able to come to Cambridge with relative ease.

A day trip to Cambridge from such nearby areas is more feasible than visits from areas of the UK which can take a day-long drive and a night’s accommodation. A 2018 investigation by Varsity revealed that of the schools with the highest number of acceptances to Oxbridge in the last ten years, the top four (Westminster, Eton, Hills Road and St Paul’s) are all within two hours’ driving distance from both Oxford and Cambridge.

In stark contrast, out of the official regions for admissions to the University, Scotland and Wales have consistently low acceptance rates. The persistently small number of students from these ‘far-flung’ areas reveals why there remains a prevailing assumption that it is possible for students’ parents to collect and return them with each passing term.

Another dimension to this issue, unsurprisingly, is money. The lack of financial diversity amongst students can be seen to intersect with the apparent lack of regional diversity in Cambridge. The ingrained assumption that students’ parents have the financial flexibility to drive to and from Cambridge - implying means of transport, and more importantly, flexible work commitments - highlights the lack of diversity in economic backgrounds at Cambridge.

Another Varsity investigation in 2018 stated that “according to the most recent data from the Student Loans Company, 93.4% of all English-domiciled university students received student loans, which is significantly greater than the 83.0% of home students on a loan at Cambridge.” The considerably high number of Cambridge students who don’t take out student loans compared to their peers at other universities is demonstrative of the financial situations of their families. This can affect whether their parents or guardians have the disposable income and work flexibility needed to take the day to come to Cambridge.


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Although distance and finances are two critical factors when it comes to students’ relationships with their families while at university, these are by no means all-encompassing. Students’ home situations span from domestic students who are estranged or homeless to international students whose families cannot feasibly pop back and forth each term. These examples only dip the surface of the mix of home situations students have. Failing to recognise the diversity of students’ experiences in this way serves only to make university tougher for students who perhaps feel that they don’t fit the ‘Cambridge’ archetype of a wealthy and loving family within a few hours’ drive.

Let’s stop assuming parental love needs to take the form of regular physical presence in Cambridge. Not everyone’s parents or guardians have the spare money or time to trek back and forth. As the new year opens discussions regarding the old issues of access, imposter syndrome, and inequalities amongst students, try to keep in mind that neither bank balance nor postcode should be any sort of a measure of familial love.

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