Cambridge access project celebrates student milestone and launches new learning resource

HE Plus is a genuine attempt to improve social mobility.

Richard Hurrell, Teacher, Wilberforce Sixth Form College, Hull

The University of Cambridge’s HE Plus programme has just registered its 10,000th participant, the culmination of five years of work with state schools and sixth form colleges across the UK.

Established in 2010, HE Plus encourages and prepares academically high-achieving state school students to make competitive applications to top universities, including Cambridge.

The programme sees the University and its Colleges working with groups of state schools and colleges in fourteen regions to engage their best students in a sustained year-long programme. This includes academic extension classes, subject masterclasses, university information / application sessions, and visits to Cambridge. 

In the 2015-16 academic year, 3,000 Year 12 students in over 80 schools and colleges are participating in the initiative. And since 2010, thousands of HE Plus participants have gone on to study at top universities.

To build on the programme’s success, the University has shared a raft of new online learning resources which are freely available to anyone aiming to make a competitive application to university, as well as those seeking to support them. The website currently offers fifty resources covering twelve subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, English, Geography, History, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Modern Languages, Physics and Religious Studies. 

Devised by a diverse team of Cambridge academics drawing on their own cutting-edge research, these resources offer a taste of university–style learning which is designed to stretch and inspire. Further resources will be released on a regular basis, with two more subject areas (Psychology and Sociology) already in the pipeline.

Current contributions include a legal masterclass from Cambridge’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo; and zoologist Dr Jamie Gundry’s fascinating resource about haplodiploidy (a sex determination system) in ants, which features his own expert photography. 

For English, Dr Fred Parker, Director of Studies at Clare College, has devised an inspiring resource about the responsibility of poetry with reference to Seamus Heaney and William Wordsworth. For Medicine, Dr Sarah Fawcett has written resources on Mycology and the importance of keeping up with current affairs in medicine.

Budding linguists are invited to study Portuguese through the prism of the Favela; French through a nineteenth-century Parisian diary; and Italian by considering the appeal of the Vespa scooter.

Five Years of HE Plus from the viewpoint of teachers

Richard Hurrell, Director of Tutorial at Wilberforce Sixth Form College in Hull, and lead teacher for the HE Plus consortium in the area, said 

“HE Plus helps to equip students with those transferable academic skills which the university is looking for. Staying at a Cambridge College greatly motivates our students but also helps to dispel the distracting media myths which still pervade. HE Plus is more than a recruitment exercise, it’s a genuine attempt to improve social mobility.”

And Rachel Hopwood, Assistant Headteacher and Head of Sixth Form at The Kings of Wessex Academy in Cheddar, Somerset said 

“Students do not always aim high and those that do, often don’t know how to achieve their goals. HE Plus is inspirational and provides valuable advice on activities to undertake and making applications. HE Plus also encourages intellectual conversation among students which helps them to advance their understanding. Residential opportunities and contact with academics not only inspire but also make being at a top university something realistic to aim for. HE Plus students are positive about every aspect of their involvement and the University's financial support enables schools to fully support their students.”

The view of a Cambridge student

Fiona Shuttleworth, a first year Veterinary Medicine student at Christ’s College, took part in HE Plus as a student at Olchfa Comprehensive School in Swansea. Fiona recalls

“It was a great insight into studying and life at Cambridge, and made the whole process of applying so much more appealing by totally removing all the stereotypes. It definitely made me less scared to first arrive and start studying because I had been to my College before, and I knew how friendly it was. It was a really helpful transition programme from A-levels into university life.”

“I love the people here, everyone is really friendly, like-minded and it helps that everyone is in the same boat. We all have loads of work to do and the intensity of it brings people together so you have friends who all support each other.”

The University is committed to widening participation both at Cambridge and in higher education more generally. The collegiate University runs about 4,000 access events each year, leading to around 200,000 interactions with school learners and teachers. For more information, visit


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