Cambridge University is using targeted social media videos to reach teenagers from UK Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and break down misconceptions that might put them off applying.

My perception of Cambridge was that it was all middle-class and white, that it wasn’t somewhere for a little brown girl from Bradford... But I feel like my faith and my cultural identity has actually been strengthened

Zainab, PBS, Newnham College

The second phase of the Get In Cambridge campaign - created to help widen the University’s pool of applicants by giving Year 11 and 12 pupils the facts about studying at Cambridge – launches this week, featuring Cambridge undergraduates from the same communities the new videos are aimed at, and including footage shot by the students themselves.

Despite the progress the University has made in attracting more students from diverse backgrounds – with the number of British Black and Minority Ethnic undergraduate students admitted reaching a record 26.8% this year – students from UK Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities make up two of the most underrepresented groups at the University. UK Pakistani students represented 1.3% of new undergraduates in 2019, and UK Bangladeshi students, 1.1%.

In the new films, 10 Cambridge students, who went to state schools in London, Manchester and Bradford before arriving at Cambridge to study subjects including English, History and Classics, compare the perceptions they had of the University as sixth formers with the reality of their lived experience. The films follow them in lectures, prayer spaces and at University cultural and religious society events, as they make it clear that concerns over cultural barriers can be overcome at Cambridge, religious practices can be observed, and people don’t have to change who they are to fit in.

The series – funded philanthropically by alumni - also includes six ‘Myth vs Reality’ videos which, among others, challenge the myth that Cambridge is more expensive to study at than other universities, and highlight the opportunity to choose a women-only college.

Psychological and Behavioural Sciences student Zainab, one of the students featured in the videos, said: “My perception of Cambridge was that it was all middle-class and white, that it wasn’t somewhere for a little brown girl from Bradford. Your parents have fears too – they think you’re going to lose your identity if you come here, that the person you are will disappear. 

“But I feel like my faith and my cultural identity has actually been strengthened because of the spaces at Cambridge - the Cambridge Islamic Society and the cultural societies like the Pakistan Society and the Bangla Society. You meet so many different people, and you’re not on your own; there are people who look like you, who talk like you, and you do find them.”

The videos - filmed this year before the COVID-19 lockdown - encourage sixth formers to find out more about Cambridge during virtual Open Days being hosted by the University and Colleges on 17 and 18 September.

Director of the Cambridge Admissions Office Jon Beard said: “We are taking a new approach with the second phase of the Get In Cambridge films, using different social media channels to reach prospective students in a more targeted way - teenagers who up until now might never have considered Cambridge as an option.

“At a recent Open Day event, a Muslim sixth former asked whether Cambridge students can wear headscarves. The answer is of course ‘yes’, but the question made us realise there are a lot of myths that persist about studying at Cambridge and we need to continue to work hard to dispel them.

“In the new films, current undergraduates discuss issues we know are important to a lot of sixth formers thinking of applying, such as what kinds of food are available in colleges, what living arrangements are like, and the key question: ‘Will there be anyone else like me at Cambridge?’ Again, the answer is ‘yes’ – and we hope these films will help get that message across.”

Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-9 pandemic, the University remains committed to continuing its work to widen access.

An extensive programme of outreach activities aims to inspire young students who may have previously been put off applying, and the University works closely with partner organisations such as The Sutton Trust and Target Oxbridge. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these activities have this year been moved online. The virtual Open Days taking place in September – along with those that took place in July - are part of this approach.

Get In Cambridge

Cambridge launched social media campaign Get In Cambridge last year to help increase diversity in the undergraduate body. The target audience are those from backgrounds underrepresented at Cambridge, plus their influencers, which range from students at schools with low numbers of pupils going on to university, to the UK’s black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. 

Cambridge alumna and YouTube vlogger Courtney Daniella fronted the launch last summer, and in five films described her journey to Cambridge from her single-parent family on a North London council estate. 

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