Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Prentice

Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Prentice is this week visiting the North West of England ­– including Manchester and Liverpool – as part of the University’s work to encourage more applications from the region.

The trip aims to build on the progress made in recent years to welcome a more diverse group of students at Cambridge.

Accompanied by Baroness Sally Morgan of Huyton, Master of Fitzwilliam College, who comes from Liverpool herself, Professor Prentice is speaking to students, teachers and education leaders to hear about their experiences and the challenges they face.

The Liverpool Echo has covered the visit and has also published an op-ed by Professor Prentice, sharing her concerns that admissions to Cambridge are skewed towards London and the South East, and reflecting on a recently published Echo piece by Cambridge graduate Eva Carroll, who went to school in Everton, and who wants to inspire more talented people in the region to follow in her footsteps.

Professor Prentice writes:

I smiled with warm recognition last month when I read an inspiring article by one of our recent graduates in the Liverpool Echo. Eva Carroll, who comes from Everton, described arriving at the University of Cambridge and settling in, learning new ways and ancient traditions.

Eva’s story is not completely different to my own – although a few thousand miles and some decades apart. We both grew up with single parents and were the first in our families to go to university.

I’ve been Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge for just over seven months now. On arriving here, like Eva, I noticed many of the traditions and have quickly grown used to them. I do know that it is a place of extraordinary beauty, and the punting and gowns still exist against a backdrop of amazing history and achievement.

Yet it is also a vibrant place where people of all backgrounds come to learn, study and carry out world-leading research on issues which affect the lives of people right here in Liverpool and around the world, such as progress on cancer, on other areas of public health, plus AI and climate.

Today, I am getting to visit Liverpool for the first time, a great city which I have always wanted to see for myself. Growing up in a modest corner of Oakland, California in the 1960s, and loving music as my passion, I could only imagine this place, whose musical talent conquered the world.

Cambridge has a huge impact on the economy of the North West: a recent analysis showed that Cambridge contributes around £769m a year to the region’s economy through outstanding research that leads to new companies and economic activity taking place here, and delivering thousands of jobs.

And the University has made real progress in recent years in welcoming a more diverse group of students, and the proportion of students who join from state schools has risen significantly.

Despite this, I share Eva's concern that admissions to Cambridge - which is most certainly a national university - is skewed towards London and the South East. In 2022 nearly half of our undergraduate students came from those areas, while just 7.7% of applications came from the North West. I want the university to serve the UK as a whole.

We want to attract the best talent and the brightest minds wherever they are, and whatever their backgrounds. So my visit is a listening journey. I’m hearing from hard-working staff and the students themselves, and education leaders, about the challenges they face.

I will also hear what they think about Cambridge. Of course this city, and this region – I also visited Manchester University yesterday - has brilliant universities, and we aren’t trying to draw students away from those.

We know that there are many students in the North West, and beyond, who – for whatever reason - will get the grades but will not think of applying to Cambridge. Our aim is that those talented students will think about doing so.

Today, with Baroness Sally Morgan of Huyton (a proud Liverpudlian colleague who runs one of our Cambridge Colleges, Fitzwilliam), I am visiting St Michael’s Church of England School in Crosby which serves as the hub for the University’s HE+ programme on Merseyside, to talk with students who have applied to the University, and the teachers who have been supporting them, about their experiences.

I will also meet trustees from the Liverpool Aspire project, which supports students considering applications to both Cambridge and Oxford, and which Eva wrote about so positively.

It hosts workshops with students in Years 10 and 12 when students are making important choices, and it helps them to maximise their potential and make applications to university. Aspire has helped 120 talented students to get a place at Cambridge and Oxford to date. It is a fantastic initiative.

I may still be relatively new to the role, but I hope that encouraging more people from all backgrounds to apply to Cambridge from great places such as Liverpool, and right across the North West, can be one of my legacies. Cambridge needs more Eva Carrolls, and we must work hard to make that possible.

Creative Commons License.
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified. All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.