The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.
The University reports annually on the ways in which it has delivered charitable purposes for the public benefit. Here are some of this year's highlights.
The University retained its number 2 spot in the 2024 QS World University Rankings and remains the highest-rated higher education institution in the UK. Cambridge was awarded a gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) 2023 published by the Office for Students (OfS).
The University attracts some of the most able students to undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, renowned for intense learning in small groups. Its graduates are highly sought after for leading roles in industry, academia and government. The University is home to around 13,000 undergraduate and 12,000 postgraduate students.
Cambridge has generated headlines around the globe as it makes key advances in diverse research fields. These include discovering the world’s oldest DNA – breaking the record by one million years and unlocking a new chapter in the history of evolution – to creating a model of a human embryo to help understand why and how pregnancies fail.
The 2023 Global Innovation Index (GII) – which evaluates the top-level innovative capacity of countries and economies, and identifies local concentrations of world-leading activity – has named Cambridge as the number one science and technological cluster by intensity, in relation to its size, unchanged from the 2022 Index.
The University sits at the heart of the ‘Cambridge cluster’, powering world-leading research, driving a thriving ecosystem of hundreds of spinout and start-up companies, and nurturing an environment for business services and investment.
The University is delivering a broad programme of work to improve its environmental sustainability performance.
Work continues to reduce the University’s energy use and deliver against its commitment to reduce energy-related emissions from the operational estate to zero by 2048 at the latest. Over the past year, the University has been exploring options for removing gas from two of its key sites, as well as working with Cambridge City Council to assess the feasibility of a city centre heat network. A programme of work has also commenced to enable the University to make more efficient use of its existing space, and identify opportunities to reduce carbon, as well as improve biodiversity and climate resilience, across the estate.
In July, the University received planning permission to build a solar farm and, this year, the Chris Abell Day Nursery was certified as BREEAM Excellent, and the Entopia building won awards for its environmental sustainability performance.
The University has now completed a high-level screening assessment under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol across its Scope 3 carbon emissions, estimating the magnitude of each major category of Scope 3 emissions as relevant to our organisation. This is providing early insights into our priorities for further work and will inform the further development of a prioritised action plan, which, with time, will look to address emissions sources, including the University’s supply chain, and staff and student travel.
In relation to transport, this year, the University has been developing a broader range of options for staff and students to utilise sustainable and active transport across the city and between sites, including a new route and revised timetable for the Universal bus service, operating with electric buses.
Work has also continued to deliver against the commitments set out in the University’s Biodiversity Action Plan and this year the University became a signatory of the Nature Positive Universities initiative, as part of its journey to address the wider impacts it has on nature and biodiversity.
In February 2022, the University Council asked the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee to oversee the development of a new Sustainability Strategy, which would be broader in scope than the existing University’s Environmental Visions, Policy and Strategy. Following extensive stakeholder engagement, the University has developed a draft Strategic Framework for Sustainability, which will be a foundation for the new Sustainability Strategy.
University staff and students continue to play a key role in supporting delivery against the University’s environmental sustainability commitments, and, this year, their achievements were celebrated at the University’s inaugural sustainability showcase event.
To date, the University remains on track to meeting its commitment to reduce energy-related emissions from its operational estate to absolute zero by 2048. The University reports its environmental sustainability performance in full in an annual environmental sustainability report. The 2022–23 report will be available in early 2024 and selected environmental performance measures for the year ended 31 July 2023 for the operational estate will be subject to independent limited assurance.
Total Scope 1 and 2 emissions for the University's operational estate (tCO2e per year)
|Key performance indicator
|Total Scope 1 and 2 location-based carbon emissions – energy and fuel use (tCO2e)
|Total Scope 1 and 2 market-based carbon emissions – energy and fuel use (tCO2e)
|Total nuclear waste generated (tonnes/year)
- The operational estate comprises those buildings that are used to support the University’s teaching and research, and the associated administrative functions. Back to content ↵
- The David Mackay Award for Engineering and Sustainability and the Construction News Awards Low Carbon Project of the Year. Back to content ↵
- Scope 3 emissions are those that arise as a consequence of the University’s operations and activities, but either upstream or downstream from the University itself, including for example: supply chain emissions and emissions from business travel. Back to content ↵
- For details of how we calculate our emissions figures, please refer to our Methodology Statement. Back to content ↵
- Baseline year for Science-Based Target for the operational estate. Back to content ↵
- Our market-based emissions figure for 2020–21 has changed from that reported last year, following an amendment to our calculation methodology, in line with best practice defined under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Back to content ↵
- Our market-based emissions figure for 2019–20 has changed from that reported last year, following an amendment to our calculation methodology, in line with best practice defined under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Back to content ↵
- We started reporting our market-based carbon emissions figure from 2019–20, after securing our first Power Purchase Agreement in 2019. Back to content ↵
- The University’s long-term strategy for its procured electricity is to incrementally increase the proportion that is being sourced from renewable sources via Power Purchase Agreements. As an interim step towards zero-carbon energy sources, the proportion of the University’s procured electricity that is currently not sourced via a Power Purchase Agreements is generated through nuclear power. In the interests of transparency, we have calculated the amount of nuclear waste that has been generated as a result of the University’s use of nuclear power (since we started reporting market-based emissions in 2019–20). Conversion factors. Back to content ↵
The Press & Assessment is a signatory of UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability programme, which helps organisations align strategies and operations with 10 principles on human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. It communicates its progress on sustainability via the UN Global Compact website.
The University’s economic impact
We contribute nearly £30 billion annually to the UK economy and support more than 86,000 jobs across the UK.
A report by London Economics measured the University's impact on the UK economy in 2020–21. The total annual impact, estimated at £29.8 billion, included:
- £23.1 billion – from the University’s research and knowledge exchange activities (including commercial companies spun out from, or closely associated with, the University and other commercial activity carried out at the University)
- £4.69 billion – from the impact generated by the spending of the University and its Colleges
- £716 million – from the University’s educational exports
- £693 million – from the University’s teaching and learning activities
- £587 million – from the impact of tourism associated with the University
The report estimated that the University supports more than 86,000 jobs across the UK, including 52,000 in the East of England, and contributes over £13 billion in gross value added (GVA).
For every £1 the University spends, it creates £11.70 of economic impact. For every £1 million of publicly funded research income the University receives, it generates £12.65 million in economic impact across the UK.
London Economics also carried out a comparison of the costs and benefits associated with almost 600 government regulatory impact assessments and found that very few government interventions bring higher economic benefits than investment in the University of Cambridge.
The University has partnered with local communities up and down the UK to make an impact. Projects include:
- detecting kidney cancer earlier in Yorkshire
- using artificial intelligence to predict fruit yields in Lincoln
- exploring the culture and indigenous languages of the Channel Islands
- regenerating endangered landscapes in the Cairngorms and the Lake District
Inside the new institute looking at early cancer
The Early Cancer Institute at Cambridge opened on 21 September 2022. It’s the first physical institute in the UK dedicated to detecting cancer early enough to cure it.
Researchers at the Institute will be focusing, in particular, on cancers that are hard to treat and, as such, have very poor outcomes. These include lung, pancreas, oesophagus, and liver cancers, and acute myeloid leukaemia. Outcomes for these cancers have changed little over the past few years.
The Institute will see as many as 120 scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines across the University – from biologists and clinicians to engineers, physicists and social scientists – working together under one roof to understand how cancer develops and evolves. They will pioneer new methods for detecting, treating – even preventing – cancer early.
The Institute is located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, where its close proximity to a number of world-leading academic, NHS and industrial partners will prove essential to its success. These include the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Wellcome–MRC Stem Cell Institute and Heart and Lung Research Institute, 3 hospitals, and major pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and GSK.
The King breaks ground on Cambridge’s New Whittle Laboratory
On 9 May 2023, His Majesty The King visited the University of Cambridge, in his first public engagement following the Coronation, to break ground on the New Whittle Laboratory. There, he also met with staff and researchers, leaders from the aviation industry, and senior UK Government representatives.
The New Whittle Laboratory, a £58 million facility, will be the leading global centre for net-zero aviation and energy. Its mission is to halve the time to develop key technologies to support a sustainable aviation industry.
It typically takes 6 to 8 years to develop a new technology to a point where it can be considered for commercial deployment in the aerospace and energy sectors. However, recent trials in the Whittle Laboratory have shown this timeframe can be accelerated by breaking down barriers that exist between academia and industry.
Alongside the groundbreaking, senior figures from government and industry gathered for an international roundtable as part of an initiative led by Cambridge and MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The roundtable presented insights based on global aviation systems’ modelling capabilities developed through the Aviation Impact Accelerator, a project led by the Whittle Laboratory and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
Highlights from Cambridge University Press & Assessment
Cambridge University Press & Assessment continued to grow its global impact, now reaching 100 million learners across 170 countries.
Cambridge academic books, research journals and other scholarly materials were downloaded 114 million times.
The group awarded more than 11 million grades globally in exams such as GCSEs, IGCSEs, Cambridge Technicals, Cambridge Nationals, AS-levels, A-levels, and the English language qualification, IELTS.
The Press & Assessment’s English group is a leading provider of English language education and assessment across schools, higher education, adult and migration contexts. The Press & Assessment has consolidated sales channels and created single teams focused on learning and assessment within the English group, with a stronger presence on the ground. English test taker levels are now higher than before the pandemic and with increased demand for assessments and learning, with distributors now keen to do both. The English group improved revenue by 17% on the prior year for exams and 11% for publishing. It is also embedding cutting-edge auto-marking and artificial intelligence capabilities into systems like Linguaskill.
The International Education group delivers materials, resources and services to teachers and learners, and is the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5 to 19 year olds.The group oversaw more than 1.4 million exam entries across 147 countries. With many International Education colleagues working outside of the UK, the group is able to draw on expertise from all around the world to ensure it reaches the people it is seeking to support.
The Cambridge Partnership for Education is driving education reform across curriculum, assessment, learning, and teacher materials. For example, this year saw the group complete half a decade of work in supporting the Ministry of Education of Oman to transform maths and science teaching and learning for every child in a government school across the country, from Grades 1 to 12. It also signed an agreement with the Ukrainian Education Ministry to transform education for temporarily displaced children from the country. Building resilient systems of education and training will be the cornerstones of Ukraine’s recovery from the war.
The UK Education group operates the Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA Examinations (OCR) – a leading UK awarding body – which provides a wide range of general and vocational qualifications to help students achieve their full potential. It also incorporates the Cambridge Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, which offers formative assessments for children of all ages, from early years to post 16.
This year, the group has worked with Ofqual, the Department for Education, and other boards to successfully improve delivery of vocational results. Together with the International Education group, UK Education is also pooling its expertise to develop joint projects for digital high-stakes qualifications and other formative assessments. In 2023, projects included launching a digital mock exam service in computer science for schools that want to run a digital mock. This service proved to be useful and popular, and will be expanded to further subjects in the future.
OCR has also continued to incorporate more diverse, representative and rigorous texts into courses, including in English literature and media studies, and is looking across all its qualifications to make them more relevant.
The Academic group creates university-level research and teaching materials and publishes more than 400 peer-reviewed academic journals, thousands of books, and monographs. Online growth has been particularly strong. Researchers downloaded 114 million academic books, research journals, and other scholarly materials, digitally, over the last year, in addition to physical copies. The Cambridge Open Equity Initiative launched in April 2023, waiving open access fees for over 100 low- and middle-income countries to allow their scholars to reach the widest possible audience. This initiative will accelerate the transition to open access for scholars outside of high-income countries. The Academic group remains on track to achieve open access for the vast majority of research publications by 2025. The year saw several landmark publications, including No Miracles Needed: How Today’s Technology Can Save Our Climate and Clean Our Air by Mark Z Jakobson.
Growing impact on society and growing sustainably
The Press & Assessment is at the forefront of climate education, offering resources and expertise in teaching and learning for nature, the environment and climate in partnership with students, teachers, and education ministries.
It is creating the skills and understanding required for adapting to climate change by embedding understanding of climate issues and sustainability into its education programmes, publishing, assessment, and research. The Press & Assessment helped develop carbon literacy courses for school children worldwide, and for its employees. Like the rest of the University, the Press & Assessment is committed to reaching carbon zero on all energy-related emissions by 2048.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s genome was sequenced for the first time by an international team of scientists using 5 genetically matching locks of his hair. The study, published in March 2023, was led by Cambridge PhD student Tristan Begg.
The study aimed to shed light on Beethoven’s health problems, which included progressive hearing loss, eventually leading to him being functionally deaf. The team also investigated possible genetic causes of Beethoven’s chronic gastrointestinal complaints and a severe liver disease, which culminated in his death in 1827.
The scientists were unable to find a definitive cause for Beethoven’s deafness or gastrointestinal problems. However, they did discover a number of significant genetic risk factors for liver disease. They also found evidence of an infection with Hepatitis B virus during at least the months prior to his death.
Human embryo-like models created from stem cells
Cambridge scientists have created a stem cell-derived model of the human embryo in the lab by reprogramming human stem cells. The breakthrough could help research into genetic disorders and in understanding why and how pregnancies fail. The research was published in June 2023.
The same month, the University launched a project to develop the first governance framework for research involving stem cell-based human embryo models in the UK.
The Governance of Stem Cell-Based Embryo Models project is led by Cambridge Reproduction (a University strategic research initiative) and brings together scientists, legal scholars and bioethics experts, as well as representatives from major funders and regulators of this research.
Artificial intelligence cuts waiting times for cancer patients in NHS first
Dr Raj Jena, oncologist at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has led research, published June 2023, to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology that has reduced the amount of time cancer patients wait for radiotherapy treatment.
Working alongside this AI technology, specialists have found they can plan radiotherapy treatments approximately 2.5 times faster than if they were working alone, this has ensured that more patients have been treated sooner, improving the likelihood of a cure.
The technology has been used at Addenbrooke’s for prostate and head and neck cancers, but has the potential to work for many other types of cancer, benefitting patients across the NHS.
In July 2023, it was announced that Stormzy and HSBC will continue to support Black UK students.
Five years since the launch of the Stormzy Scholarship programme at the University of Cambridge, HSBC UK has pledged a further £2 million in support of 30 new Stormzy Scholarships over the next 3 years (2024–26). The #Merky Foundation, the UK charity founded by the award-winning British musician, Stormzy, will continue to fund a further 2 students per year.
Since launching in 2018, the scholarships have helped alleviate the financial worries and transform the University experience of 44 students from less-advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. It’s anticipated that a total of 81 students will have received a Stormzy Scholarship by 2026.
Thanking HSBC UK for its commitment, Stormzy said: "For a further 30 Black students to have the opportunity to study at Cambridge University – the same year we celebrate 5 years of the scholarship's launch – feels like an incredible landmark moment.
"Thank you to HSBC UK for another incredibly significant donation and of course, Cambridge University for always, always backing our mission.
"I hope these scholarships continue to serve as a small reminder to young Black students that the opportunity to study at one of the best universities in the world is theirs for the taking!"
Mastercard Foundation Scholars programme
In December 2021, a new partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and the University was announced. The partnership sought to provide talented scholars from Africa with fully-funded opportunities to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge while honing their leadership skills.
Mastercard Foundation Scholars come from diverse backgrounds but share a strong commitment to service, often driven by their lived experience of the economic and social realities that drive global inequities – including barriers to education access that are associated with financial constraints, forcible displacement, gender, and living with a disability.
Mastercard Foundation Scholars at Cambridge are particularly committed to using the skills and knowledge they gain to help drive climate resilience and sustainability in Africa and around the world.
The first cohort of Mastercard Foundation Scholars started their courses in Cambridge in October 2022. One of the Scholars, Muhammad Balarabe, whose research focused on developing age-friendly and sustainable cities, said that the Mastercard Foundation had created a real opportunity and a secure learning environment for him. He said: "It gives me the opportunity to return to Africa and contribute, to change narratives, and to do things in better ways." Muhammad will be taking up a position at the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town, South Africa.
Kettle’s Yard gallery celebrates a pioneering art project created with local school pupils
In February 2023, an exciting, interactive art installation at Kettle’s Yard was launched following 18 months of collaboration between the gallery, artist-in-residence Georgia Akbar, and the students of Castle School in Cambridge.
Since 2021, pupils from Castle School, an inclusive school supporting special educational needs and disabilities, visited Kettle’s Yard for inspiration and the opportunity to work with artist Georgia through experimental, creative workshops.
The result was an inspiring and interactive artwork, inspired by the play of light and windows within Kettle’s Yard. It encouraged visitors to look up, to interact and play with light, and notice how light could change the nature or appearance of an environment.
The students combined their interest in film-making, projection, painting, drawing, and installation to create the final artwork. They also found themselves so inspired by the artwork that they went on to create a new music composition, which played alongside the work.
The project was the first of its kind for Castle School and Kettle’s Yard. Its aim was to celebrate, amplify, and importantly, be led by student voices. Pupils across the school, from early years up to sixth formers took part.
The Cambridge Festival ran from 17 March to 2 April 2023 and encompassed over 350 online and in-person events, resulting in 132,000 direct engagements with the public about the University’s research.
This year’s Festival saw the largest number of in-person events since 2019. There were open days at the University’s West Cambridge Campus, a Family Weekend at the New Museums Site, special days for schools, evening talks, exhibitions, and guided walks. Over 30,000 people engaged with the in-person events, an increase of 20,000 compared to the previous year.
The programme of evening talks featured leading academics tackling some of the biggest issues of our time, including food securing, climate change, mental health, artificial intelligence, and misinformation.
Over 1,400 students from across the region attended the special days for schools, which were a new addition to this year’s programme of events.
Attendees rated the Festival as 4.7 out of 5 stars describing it as engaging, entertaining, interesting, inspiring, and stimulating.
Cambridge Enterprise Limited (Cambridge Enterprise) leads the commercialisation of University research to unlock solutions to global challenges. It also plays a central role in activating and enhancing the globally competitive innovation ecosystem that surrounds the University.
Last year, Cambridge Enterprise celebrated another successful year. It licensed 125 technologies to industry and grew its managed portfolio of spin-out companies to over 145, which have raised in excess of £3 billion of venture investment over the last 10 years. Cambridge Enterprise signed over 290 consultancy agreements, a record year for consultancy services, which acts as a powerful vehicle for the quick translation of research and a valuable support mechanism for academics and researchers.
Cambridge Enterprise is also active in supporting wider innovation activities across the University and beyond. This year, it welcomed ideaSpace to the Cambridge Enterprise family and it now provides co-working space and community for founders and entrepreneurs in three locations across Cambridge. Cambridge Enterprise also now co-ordinates the University Enterprise Network and has taken a leading role in convening the University’s community of innovation providers by sharing and encouraging best practice. Cambridge is now the number one ranked university globally for University alumni founders who have raised US$10 million (about £8 million) in investment. It is this entrepreneurial culture that Cambridge Enterprise is fostering and developing.
In partnership with the University and Cambridge Innovation Capital, Cambridge Enterprise is also leading the Innovate Cambridge initiative. This is an ambitious activity to create a collaborative, inclusive, and broad ranging innovation vision for the Greater Cambridge Region. It challenges everyone to consider what must be done to ensure Cambridge remains a leading global location for innovation into the future.
Cambridge Enterprise celebrated Gyroscope Therapeutics and Centessa Pharmaceuticals, companies which originated from the University, becoming unicorns – private startups valued at over US$1 billion (about £790 million).
Gyroscope Therapeutics became a Cambridge unicorn following its acquisition by Novartis for up to US$1.5 billion (about £1.1 billion), accelerating gene therapy for ocular diseases towards the clinic. Cambridge Enterprise has supported the intellectual property since it was first disclosed by Professor Sir Peter Lachmann in 2009. Co-founded with Syncona Investment Management in 2016, Gyroscope Therapeutics became a global leader in ocular gene therapies, developing the world’s first treatment for an advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration that leads to blindness.
Legacies of enslavement
In September 2022, the University of Cambridge shared a digest of peer-reviewed research into its historical connections to enslavement, together with a response from Professor Stephen J Toope, who commissioned the inquiry and served as Vice-Chancellor from 2017 to 2022.
The research indicated that Cambridge was implicated in enslavement in a number of ways, including investing in the Atlantic slave trade, receiving benefactions based on income derived from the slave trade, educating wealthy slave estate owners’ sons, and its academics supporting the proslavery movement.
Professor Stephen J Toope said: "It is not in our gift to right historic wrongs, but we can begin by acknowledging them. Having unearthed our University’s links to an appalling history of abuse, the report encourages us to work even harder to address current inequalities – particularly those related to the experiences of Black communities."
The University has begun to implement the report’s recommendations by creating a Cambridge Legacies of Enslavement Fund for research, community engagement, and partnership activities.
The report calls for the following:
- the creation of a Cambridge Legacies of Enslavement Research Centre
- enhancing engagement with Black communities
- funding for new partnerships in Africa and the Caribbean
- memorialising Black scholars
The University’s museums and collections have been working to facilitate conversations around the legacies of empire and enslavement through an interdisciplinary public programme. This includes a landmark exhibition, Black Atlantic: Power, People, Resistance, being staged in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s historic Founder’s Galleries (September 2023 to January 2024), galleries that were built using profits from enslavement and exploitation.