London, May 5: Indians should in theory find it easier to get into Cambridge in the years to come following confirmation by the university today that it is planning to build up to three new colleges to meet rising demand for places.
For the past 100 years, India has maintained close links with Cambridge but getting in is becoming increasingly harder.
“This year there were 15,000 applications for 3,000 places,” Tim Holt, a spokesman for the university, told The Telegraph today.
So the university has come up with an obvious plan — build more colleges to add to the 31 that currently exist. It has already earmarked a 140-acre “green belt” site in northwest Cambridge, “bounded by Huntington Road, the M11 motorway and Madingley Road”.
“It’s a 10-minute cycle ride from Cambridge city centre —I’ve done it,” said Holt. “It’s farmland and the university owns it.”
However, the planning application is in the early stages and there will be a long way to go before changes to the “draft local plan” is turned into a “master plan”, meets objections from local residents and environmental groups and is approved by the City Council. This expensive process could take years but Cambridge University is a persuasive and influential body.
Asked whether building up to three new colleges would not devalue the “Cambridge currency”, Holt was adamant. “Not at all,” he insisted. “Only top students will be allowed.”
The problem not just for Cambridge but for all good universities is that more and more students are passing their school-leaving “A” level exams with three or even four A grades. Cambridge and Oxford are finding it harder to identify the very best students on the basis of A-level results alone.
The student population is also growing, and Cambridge argues, not unreasonably, it needs more of everything — more money, more colleges, more student accommodation, more staff, more research establishments and more housing for university workers.
“Between 1990 and 2000 the number of undergraduates at the University of Cambridge grew by 11 per cent, from 10,190 to 11,312, while the number of post-graduates grew by 52 per cent from 3,533 to 5,387,” Holt pointed out.
The number of students is expected to rise from 16,075 in 2000 to 18,930 in 2016 and 20,873 in 2025. Staff numbers are predicted to go up from 7,019 in 2000 to 10,571 in 2016 and 13,907 in 2025.
“In order for the University to remain a world class education and research establishment we need to retain the option to develop,” explained Holt.
“The master plan will ens-ure that the northwest Cambridge site is developed sustainably with high environmental standards and high quality design.”
The cost of the development will run into billions of pounds but the new colleges will probably be named after their benefactors, as was the case in 1979 with Robinson College, which was funded by the late racehorse owner David Robinson, a local man who made his money from renting out TV sets.
One newspaper reported today that the grand plan has been “compared in importance by one Cambridge source with the building of King’s College Chapel, completed in 1515”.
The Indian link with British universities has been strained by the huge cost of studying in Britain — America offers many more scholarships. But a reinvigorated Cambridge might come back into the reckoning, especially if Indian tycoons choose to fund some of the development.