Why do we do Outreach work?

There is profound education inequality between students from high-income backgrounds and students from low-income backgrounds.

“It really changed my mind about where I want to go in the future”
Year 10 student, 2018 English Day

Across the UK, 96% of privately educated children go on to study at university, while only 16% of FSM children do so. When it comes to highly selective universities such as Cambridge, our numbers are strikingly poor: only 3.2% of Cambridge’s 2016 intake came from the lowest POLAR group in the UK. There are also many target groups underrepresented at Cambridge, the largest being low-income background students, white working class males and Black or Ethnic Minority (BME) students.

“The work of the Schools Liaison Officer at St Catharine’s College has been instrumental in raising our students’ aspirations”
Mark Kirby, Associate Senior Leader at Newmarket Academy

What do we currently do?


Students have connected with St Catharine’s at events in schools

Students have connected with us at the College

Schools were supported by St Catharine’s through the Area Links Scheme

Open Days and Taster Days

Student helpers registered to help with outreach and recruitment

Each Cambridge College is part of the Area Links Scheme, which enables us to build effective, coherent relationships with schools and colleges across the UK and gives schools and colleges a direct way of staying in touch with the University by providing specific contact points. St Catharine’s is currently linked with Suffolk, Rutland and North Yorkshire, totalling 101 state schools, as well as two local schools which we are paired with under the ‘Connect to Cambridge’ programme. Priority schools are those that have low OFSTED ratings, high numbers of pupils on Free School Meals, and various other criteria such as first-generation students or BME students.

For Suffolk and Rutland schools, day visits to the college average 3 per week, costing approximately £200 for 30 people. We also offer to pay 50% of travel costs for each school, to avoid restrictions on visits due to schools’ budgetary constraints. A typical day visit includes a talk about Higher Education and the Oxbridge applications process, a tour of the college with one of our current undergraduates, a museum visit or a taster lecture from a fellow, and a debate session using mock interview questions. I adjust the timetables for each school, tailoring them according to their needs and interests. These visits work best with Years 9-13, but our primary school visits have been very successful as well.

Given the distance from Cambridge to North Yorkshire, our contact is usually focused on my week-long trips to the region three times a year. At present, these trips are co-ordinated with Brasenose College, Oxford, to avoid duplication of work and to provide students in Years 10-13 with information on both universities without competing. On these trips, we visit approximately 20 schools in a week, and bring student ambassadors with us to do the hard work! These trips cost around £1000 each, including payment for the student ambassadors, food, accommodation and travel expenses.

How do we know that what we do has any impact?

“The visit to St Catharine’s was an eye opening experience that has inspired me to aim high with my university application”
Lowestoft Sixth Form student

The University as a whole will be starting to use the Higher Education Activity Tracker (HEAT) system over the next few years, to track and record student data. By tracking student engagement in outreach activities, we can then assess the impact of our work and target students more specifically.

Currently we cross-reference our applicants with those who have visited the college for any event, and I also gather feedback from Open Days and school visits through questionnaires and surveys.

Who else do we work with?

The Area Links Scheme does not prevent Cambridge Colleges from working with schools outside of their link areas. St Catharine’s endeavours to work with school students across the UK who are most in need of support. One of the ways in which we do this is through our collaboration with The Access Project and The Brilliant Club. These charities deliver long-term programmes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are underrepresented in highly-selective universities. The programmes involve tutoring, mentorship, and university trips to raise attainment and aspiration.

A typical visit to St Catharine’s from The Brilliant Club or The Access Project costs the College approximately £2000. In addition to this, we donate £1000 to The Access Project for the transport costs of bringing hundreds of students from multiple schools to Cambridge. This money has a valuable and measurable impact on young people’s lives: Access Project participants are twice as likely to go to a top university than other students with the same academic record and background and of Ever 6 FSM pupils,4 52% of those on The Brilliant Club programme progressed to a highly-selective university, compared to a national progression rate of 10%.

As we all know, our current students are by far the biggest advert for the college, and they have many new and innovative ideas to encourage applicants. I have been working with the JCR Access and BME Officers, alongside many of our student ambassadors, for website content, prospective student advice and school visit help.

What about larger events?

We run Subject Taster Days followed by the College and University Open Days. Both types of event allow students to meet academic fellows, chat to current students and give students a chance to go to taster lectures. The student ambassadors do a fantastic job on these days, and are the highlight for many prospective students.

During the two University Open Days, the College is open to prospective students and their supporters, with the Admissions Team and Catz Ambassadors welcoming visitors and answering questions. The Catz Ambassadors run regular tours of the College throughout the day, giving applicants the opportunity to view accommodation and facilities and hear about life at St Catharine’s from a student perspective. Many of the College’s Fellows offer informal drop-in sessions throughout the course of the Open Days, enabling prospective students to meet and receive advice from those in their subject area. With its friendly Fellows and students, St Catharine’s prides itself on a warm and inviting atmosphere during the Open Days.

The College is committed to financially supporting students traveling to Cambridge for Open Days and Taster Days who would usually be deterred by travel and accommodation costs. This year, we hosted over 150 students overnight in St Catharine’s to enable them to attend Open Days and Taster Days.

This was made possible by a Member gift specifically designated for this purpose.

What are the plans for next year?

In order to keep improving our widening participation work, we will be creating a new evaluation-based outreach strategy for the College this year. This will use data from Cambridge’s 2019-20 Access and Participation Plan with the Office for Students and enable St Catharine’s to consistently prioritise
schools and students in most need of our support.

The Cambridge Colleges are now all committed to recording widening participation work on the Higher Education Activity Tracker (HEAT) system, which can track school and individual student participation in College and University outreach events. Combining our event evaluation and HEAT tracking with a new outreach strategy will allow us to increase the effectiveness of our widening participation work and ensure the College continues to attract the best and brightest students, regardless of background, for the years to come.