David Clifford hosts ‘Overcoming Class Barriers at Cambridge’ Symposium, Homerton College, 9-11 June 2023

Symposium, Homerton College, 9-11 June 2023. Free (via EventBrite; link below)


‘Overcoming Class Barriers at Cambridge’


This symposium aims to draw focus onto the experiences of students and academics from non-traditional, and in particular working-class, social backgrounds. Definitions of this are fluid, but would commonly include being first-generation, state-educated, and perhaps from schools/communities with lower than average attainment expectations. The event aims to show both current students and potential applicants that many more students arrive at Cambridge without the economic or cultural capital traditionally thought necessary to secure Cambridge entry, nor even sometimes with the aspirational encouragement of schools or families. It aims to show that such students both belong and can thrive at Cambridge.


Over the past decades state school admissions to Cambridge have increased as a proportion of all those admitted, but state-school attendance does not by itself signify disadvantaged social origins. Many state school arrivals are now rich in aspirational and cultural capital. The University has gathered demographic data that aims to identify students from less privileged backgrounds, and numbers of these students are creeping up as well. But social origins do not always announce themselves in ways that the characteristics of other minority groups have ways of showing. It’s easy for working class students to imagine they are uniquely minoritized and out of place. This symposium challenges that perspective.


The aim was to show that not only are there many more outstanding, first-generation students from state schools with a record of very few students going into higher education, much less Oxbridge, than expectations might permit, there is also a significant population of both alumni and academic staff at Cambridge now from similar origins. When I canvassed academic staff around the city last year I received almost a hundred responses from academics at all levels telling me their family backgrounds and the difficulties they encountered as they proceeded through higher education. A decade or two of practised presentation skills, a nice professional title, and a couple of decent pairs of shoes, and academic staff from less privileged backgrounds become indistinguishable to students from their more well-heeled colleagues. But here we are.


Everyone admitted to Cambridge does so because they get outstanding academic results, but not everyone starts with the same resources, expectations or encouragement to get them. This symposium wants students from those backgrounds to stand up, be seen, and be celebrated.

The panels (academics and students) are:


  • (Fri, 19.30) Before we knew we would be academics, and the problems that arose when we were.
  • (Sat, 09.00) The experiences of working-class women academics.
  • (Sat, 11.00) Improving support for working-class students at Cambridge.
  • (Sat, 14.00) Attracting more working-class students to apply in the first place.
  • (Sat, 16.00) Changing the culture of the University.
  • (Sun, 09.00) Class barriers faced by ethnic minorities in Cambridge.
  • (Sun, 11.00) Why are we all changing our accents? The diluting of working-class identities.


All students, whatever their social background, are welcome to attend, or connect to panels via Zoom webinar. Registration via EventBrite is required, though of course that commits no-one to attend – just to get Zoom links and further information. Attendees can attend as may or as few panels as they wish. Friday welcome reception and light refreshments between sessions. Students wishing to join a panel contact David Clifford (djhc2).