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Earlier Oxbridge applications create new obstacle for poorer students, say experts | Higher education

The universities of Cambridge and Oxford could create ‘new obstacles’ for poorer applicants by allowing students to apply for some of their most competitive courses two weeks earlier than usual, experts warn.

Traditionally, the race for a seat at Oxbridge starts earlier than for other universities, with sixth-year students expected to submit their Ucas applications by October 15, rather than January 25 for most courses. This year, however, Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (Caat), which conducts admission tests for some of the most popular courses at both universities, has pushed back the registration date for its tests by two weeks to the end of September. Cambridge candidates who are required to take these tests, which are a critical part of the selection process, will also take them earlier than usual in October.

Some fear that if students take the plunge to apply to these ultra-competitive universities just a few weeks after returning from their summer holidays, it could mean that some students from state schools not focused on sending students to Oxbridge, will miss the boat.

Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “In this increasingly competitive race for diploma places, we need to be absolutely sure that we are not inadvertently creating new obstacles for underprivileged students who are already struggling in so many ways. face an uneven playing field.”

dr. Rohan Agarwal, founder of UniAdmissions, a commercial tutoring service that supports students applying to Oxbridge, said: “We are connecting with people who are in panic. I really feel for these students, especially those who have not had good advice from their school.”

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Students are required to take Caat tests in subjects such as Medicine, Natural Sciences, Engineering and Computer Science at Cambridge, and Medicine, Classics, Mathematics and Philosophy at Oxford.

Agarwal’s company tells job applicants that these tests could be “the deciding factor” in whether or not they get a place. He said: “When you’re in a state school and all your preparation for a test in Cambridge is only four weeks now, it suddenly becomes very difficult.”

He added: “When the tests were after the rest period, you could spend the holiday on last-minute blocks.”

Trainee lawyer Jack Bailey, who grew up in Rhyl, one of the most deprived towns in Wales, and graduated with a first in Cambridge last year, said neither of the two comprehensive schools he visited had much history of sending pupils to Oxbridge . He decided to apply at the last minute “because if I didn’t, I’d always wonder”.

“My sixth-grade principal talked to me about applying for jobs in September, and I only had four weeks left to get my application in order. It was manageable, but definitely a bit of a crunch,” he said.

“Your deadline may be more urgent, but everyone is also preparing for university applications at the same time, and teachers are under a lot of pressure.”

Last year Bailey used social media to help working class students apply for Cambridge and received a “great response”. He said students “not at the kind of school where teachers coach you on entrance tests” would probably find them quite intimidating.

Earlier this year, Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope said: “We need to continue to make it very clear that we intend to reduce the number of people from independent backgrounds to places like Oxford and Cambridge over time.”

In October, Cambridge will welcome a record number of state-educated students, 72.5% of the cohort.

Mike Nicholson, deputy head of education services at Cambridge, said it was “not ideal” for tests to fall mid-term, forcing schools to reopen so students could take them.

He said students shouldn’t worry about not having enough time to prepare, and that no one should feel like they have to pay tuition to get in. “These aren’t tests you have to cram for. Applicants are not supposed to revise certain topics. This is about how you apply your knowledge of what you have already learned to unfamiliar questions.”

An Oxford spokesperson said it was “working on the best way to support students unable to register before the new deadline”.

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