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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
A taste of Cambridge life
GEEMA students
Cambridge hopes to attract more black undergraduates
By BBC News Online's community affairs reporter Cindi John

In the common room at Jesus College in Cambridge groups of students sit discussing a project they are working on.

But they are not Cambridge undergraduates - or not yet. They are participants in a summer school.

The 40 black and Asian students have been chosen from schools around the country to get a taste of what it is like to be a Cambridge undergraduate.

The week-long summer school is organised by Geema, a body set up by Cambridge university to encourage more ethnic minority applicants.

In a lot of ways the media tries to promote a stereotyped image of Oxford and Cambridge

Nahid Walji
Cambridge undergraduate

Geema's co-ordinator, Manish Masuria, himself a former Cambridge student, said their aim was to attract a wider variety of students by "demystifying" the university.

"There is a diverse community here but it's not as diverse as it could be and also lots of people are deterred from applying for various reasons.

"I take it as my job not only to encourage them but also to say 'It's possible - if I can do it you can do it'," he said.

Manish Masuria & summer school participant
Manish Masuria (right) said Cambridge needed to be more diverse

Mr Masuria, who did a degree in religious studies at Homerton College, attended a state school in Leicester.

"I think I was lucky I didn't really have any preconceptions about Cambridge before I applied.

"I just applied because I thought 'Give it a go and see what happens'. When I got in I was quite surprised."

New perspectives

Students at the week-long summer school follow a timetable of lectures and seminars in various subjects similar to that of real undergraduates.

There are also special seminars in subjects such as interview skills, as well as a tour of the university.

One participant, 17-year-old Gemma from south-east London, said she had been pleasantly surprised by what she had discovered about Cambridge life.

Gemma & Sang Soo
Gemma and Sang Soo said they had learnt a lot about the university

"I was afraid there'd be few other ethnic minorities or that I'd feel out of place. But now it seems a lot different," she said.

"I have talked to some of the undergraduates who are actually here and they've been saying that there is diversity regarding race here."

She added she was not sure if she would apply to Cambridge but was determined to be the first in her family to go to university.

But there is a long tradition of university education in Sang Soo's family. The 17-year-old, originally from Korea and now living in Swansea, wants to study medicine.

"Cambridge does have this stereotypical image and I did have did have a certain image in my head but this week's been good," she said.

Another participant, Hilary from south London, said his view of Cambridge had also changed.

Hilary and other GEEMA participants
Hilary (right) said Cambridge was "cool"

His previous ideas about the university had been formed on a day trip to the university with his south London school.

"I thought then 'I'll never be living here'. Maybe because the people were just too uptight, I felt left out.

"But since I've been here now I think it's quite cool, everybody's cool with each other, it's not segregated or anything."

Hilary, whose family originally came to the UK from Nigeria, said going to university was the norm in his family but he still believed it would be a milestone to get into Cambridge.

"If I do get into Cambridge I think it'll be a great achievement because I'll have been to one of the greatest universities."

'Skewed view'

As well as attending lectures, participants get the chance to talk to Cambridge undergraduates about their experiences of life at the university.

One such is Nahid Walji who has been helping to supervise the students.

Mr Walji, who is studying maths at Jesus College, said Cambridge had been his first choice and he had not been put off by its image.

"In a lot of ways the media tries to promote a stereotyped image of Oxford and Cambridge and I guess that's understandable.

Nahid Walji
Nahid Walji had a positive view of Cambridge

"They want an exciting story. But it definitely skews the public view of Cambridge," he said.

He added that his experiences as a Cambridge undergraduate had been entirely positive.

Manish Masuria of Geema said the idea of targeting Year 11 pupils was that they would be able to tailor their A-levels to meet the requirements of Cambridge colleges.

He added that generally around four participants from each summer school had gone on to apply to the university.

"We don't have a record of how many of those get in, simply because the colleges don't give us that information as yet, but we're working on getting it," Mr Masuria said.

See also:

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25 Apr 01 | Education
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