University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge

September 9, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, England.
Originally founded in 1209, it is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world,
and the world’s third-oldest surviving university. Early records suggest that the university
grew out of an association formed by scholars leaving the University of Oxford after a dispute
with townsfolk; the two “ancient universities” have many common features and are often jointly
referred to as “Oxbridge”. Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions
that include 31 constituent colleges and over 100 departments, faculties and institutes
which are organised into six Schools. The University occupies buildings throughout the
town, many of which are of historic importance. Student life is centred around the colleges
and numerous artistic activities, sports clubs and societies. Cambridge has many notable
alumni, and 90 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with it. Cambridge University Press, one of
its department, is the world’s oldest publishing house, and the second-largest university press
in the world. Its largest library, Cambridge University Library, holds over 8 million
volumes and is a legal deposit library; all together Cambridge’s libraries contain about
15 million volumes. Cambridge is also a member of various academic associations and forms
part of the “golden triangle” of English universities. It is regularly placed among the world’s best
universities in different league tables. Cambridge’s endowment (£4.9 billion as of
2013) is the largest of any non-American university. In the year ended 31 July 2013 the university
had a total income of £1.44 billion, of which £332 million was from research grants and
contracts. The university is closely linked with the development of the high-tech business
cluster in and around Cambridge, which forms the area known as “Silicon Fen”.
History The official founding of Cambridge University
is traced to the enhancement, by a charter in 1231 from King Henry III of England (the
first English university to be granted one; Oxford followed in 1248), which awarded the
ius non-trahi extra (a right to discipline its own members) plus some exemption from
taxes, and a bull in 1233 from Pope Gregory IX that gave graduates from Cambridge the
right to teach “everywhere in Christendom”. After Cambridge was described as a studium
generale in a letter by Pope Nicholas IV in 1290, and confirmed as such in a bull by Pope
John XXII in 1318, it became common for researchers from other European medieval universities
to visit Cambridge to study or to give lecture courses.
Foundation of the colleges The colleges at the University of Cambridge
were originally an incidental feature of the system. No college is as old as the university
itself. The colleges were endowed fellowships of scholars. There were also institutions
without endowments, called hostels. The hostels were gradually absorbed by the colleges over
the centuries, but they have left some indicators of their time, such as the name of Garret
Hostel Lane. Hugh Balsham, Bishop of Ely, founded Peterhouse,
Cambridge’s first college, in 1284. Many colleges were founded during the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries, but colleges continued to be established throughout the centuries to modern times,
although there was a gap of 204 years between the founding of Sidney Sussex in 1596 and
Downing in 1800. The most recently established college is Robinson, built in the late 1970s.
However, Homerton College only achieved full university college status in March 2010, making
it the newest full college (it was previously an “Approved Society” affiliated with the
university). In medieval times, many colleges were founded
so that their members would pray for the souls of the founders, and were often associated
with chapels or abbeys. A change in the colleges’ focus occurred in 1536 with the Dissolution
of the Monasteries. King Henry VIII ordered the university to disband its Faculty of Canon
Law and to stop teaching “scholastic philosophy”. In response, colleges changed their curricula
away from canon law, and towards the classics, the Bible, and mathematics.
As Cambridge moved away from Canon Law, it also moved away from Catholicism. As early
as the 1520s, Lutheranism and what was to become more broadly known as the Protestant
Reformation were making their presence felt in the intellectual discourse of the university.
Among those involved was Thomas Cranmer, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. As it
became convenient to Henry VIII in the 1530s, the King looked to Cranmer and others (within
and without Cambridge) to craft a new path that was different from Catholicism yet also
different from what Martin Luther had in mind. Nearly a century later, the university was
at the centre of a Protestant schism. Many nobles, intellectuals and even common folk
saw the ways of the Church of England as being too similar to the Catholic Church and that
it was used by the crown to usurp the rightful powers of the counties. East Anglia was the
centre of what became the Puritan movement and at Cambridge, it was particularly strong
at Emmanuel, St Catharine’s Hall, Sidney Sussex and Christ’s College. They produced many “non-conformist”
graduates who greatly influenced, by social position or pulpit, the approximately 20,000
Puritans who left for New England and especially the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Great
Migration decade of the 1630s. Oliver Cromwell, Parliamentary commander during the English
Civil War and head of the English Commonwealth (1649–1660), attended Sidney Sussex.
Mathematics and mathematical physics Examination in mathematics was once compulsory
for all undergraduates studying for the Bachelor of Arts degree, the main first degree at Cambridge
in both arts and sciences. From the time of Isaac Newton in the later 17th century until
the mid-19th century, the university maintained an especially strong emphasis on applied mathematics,
particularly mathematical physics. The exam is known as a Tripos. Students awarded first-class
honours after completing the mathematics Tripos are termed wranglers, and the top student
among them is the Senior Wrangler. The Cambridge Mathematical Tripos is competitive and has
helped produce some of the most famous names in British science, including James Clerk
Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and Lord Rayleigh. However, some famous students, such as G. H. Hardy,
disliked the system, feeling that people were too interested in accumulating marks in exams
and not interested in the subject itself. Pure mathematics at Cambridge in the 19th
century had great achievements but also missed out on substantial developments in French
and German mathematics. Pure mathematical research at Cambridge finally reached the
highest international standard in the early 20th century, thanks above all to G. H. Hardy
and his collaborator, J. E. Littlewood. In geometry, W. V. D. Hodge brought Cambridge
into the international mainstream in the 1930s. Although diversified in its research and teaching
interests, Cambridge today maintains its strength in mathematics. Cambridge alumni have won
six Fields Medals and one Abel Prize for mathematics, while individuals representing Cambridge have
won four Fields Medals. The University also runs a Master of Advanced Study course in
mathematics. Contributions to the advancement of science
Many of history’s most important scientific contributions were made by Cambridge alumni.
These include: Articulation of the scientific method, by
Francis Bacon Discovery of the laws of motion and the calculus,
by Sir Isaac Newton Discovery of hydrogen, by Henry Cavendish
Fundamental contributions to thermodynamics, by Lord Kelvin
Formulation of the laws of electromagnetism, by James Clerk Maxwell
Discovery of the electron, by J. J. Thomson Discovery of the atomic nucleus, by Ernest
Rutherford Formulation of the theory of evolution by
natural selection, by Charles Darwin Fundamental contributions to statistics and
the Modern Synthesis of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics, by Ronald Fisher
Formulation of the theory of computation, by Alan Turing
Discovery of the DNA double helix by Francis Crick and James D. Watson
Fundamental contributions to quantum mechanics, by Paul Dirac
Fundamental contributions to cosmology, by Stephen Hawking
Fundamental contributions to string theory, by Michael Green
Modern period After the Cambridge University Act formalised
the organizational structure of the University, the study of many new subjects was introduced,
such as theology, history and modern languages. Resources necessary for new courses in the
arts, architecture and archaeology were generously donated by Richard Fitzwilliam of Trinity
College. Between 1896 and 1902, Downing College sold part of its land to build the Downing
Site, comprising new scientific laboratories for anatomy, genetics and Earth sciences.
During the same period, the New Museums Site was erected, including the Cavendish Laboratory,
which has since moved to the West Cambridge Site, and other departments for chemistry
and medicine. Teaching was heavily disrupted during the
First World War in which more than 14,000 members of the University took part and 2,470
died. As a consequence, new State funding started to flow to the institution. Following
the Second World War, the University saw a rapid expansion of student numbers and available
places; this was partly due to the success and popularity gained by many Cambridge scientists.
Parliamentary representation The university was one of only eight UK universities
to hold a parliamentary seat in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The constituency was
created by a Royal Charter of 1603 and returned two Members of Parliament. It was abolished
in 1950 by the Representation of the People Act 1948.
The constituency was not a geographical area. Its electorate consisted of the graduates
of the University. Before 1918 the franchise was restricted to male graduates with a Doctorate
or MA degree. Women’s education
Initially, only male students were enrolled into the university. The first colleges for
women were Girton College (founded by Emily Davies) in 1869 and Newnham College in 1872
(founded by Anne Clough and Henry Sidgwick), followed by Hughes Hall in 1885 (founded by
Elizabeth Phillips Hughes as the Cambridge Teaching College for Women), New Hall (later
renamed Murray Edwards College) in 1954, and Lucy Cavendish College in 1965. The first
women students were examined in 1882 but attempts to make women full members of the university
did not succeed until 1948. Women were allowed to study courses, sit examinations, and have
their results recorded from 1881; for a brief period after the turn of the twentieth century,
this allowed the “steamboat ladies” to receive ad eundem degrees from the University of Dublin.
From 1921 women were awarded diplomas which “conferred the Title of the Degree of Bachelor
of Arts”. As they were not “admitted to the Degree of Bachelor of Arts” they were excluded
from the governing of the university. Since students must belong to a college, and since
established colleges remained closed to women, women found admissions restricted to colleges
established only for women. Starting with Churchill, Clare and King’s Colleges, all
of the men’s colleges began to admit women between 1972 and 1988. One women’s college,
Girton, also began to admit male students from 1979, but the other women’s colleges
did not follow suit. As a result of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, ending its ban on male students
in 2008, Cambridge is now the only remaining United Kingdom University with colleges which
refuse to admit males, with three such institutions (Newnham, Murray Edwards and Lucy Cavendish).
In the academic year 2004–5, the university’s student sex ratio, including post-graduates,
was male 52%: female 48%. Myths, legends and traditions
As an institution with such a long history, the University has developed a large number
of myths and legends. The vast majority of these are untrue, but have been propagated
nonetheless by generations of students and tour guides.
A discontinued tradition is that of the wooden spoon, the ‘prize’ awarded to the student
with the lowest passing grade in the final examinations of the Mathematical Tripos. The
last of these spoons was awarded in 1909 to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, an oarsman of
the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St John’s College. It was over one metre in length and had an
oar blade for a handle. It can now be seen outside the Senior Combination Room of St
John’s. Since 1909, results were published alphabetically within class rather than score
order. This made it harder to ascertain who the winner of the spoon was (unless there
was only one person in the third class), and so the practice was abandoned.
Each Christmas Eve, BBC radio and television broadcasts The Festival of Nine Lessons and
Carols by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The radio broadcast has been a national Christmas
tradition since it was first transmitted in 1928 (though the festival has existed since
1918). The radio broadcast is carried worldwide by the BBC World Service and is also syndicated
to hundreds of radio stations in the USA. The first television broadcast of the festival
was in 1954. Location
The university occupies a central location within the city of Cambridge, with the students
taking up a significant proportion (nearly 20%) of the town’s population and heavily
distorting the age structure. Most of the older colleges are situated nearby the city
centre and river Cam, along which it is traditional to punt to appreciate the buildings and surroundings.
Examples of notable buildings include King’s College Chapel, the history faculty building
designed by James Stirling; and the Cripps Building at St John’s College. The brickwork
of several of the colleges is also notable: Queens’ College contains “some of the earliest
patterned brickwork in the country” and the brick walls of St John’s College provide examples
of English bond, Flemish bond and Running bond.
Sites The university is divided into several sites
where the different departments are placed. The main ones are:
The university’s School of Clinical Medicine is based in Addenbrooke’s Hospital where students
in medicine undergo their three-year clinical placement period after obtaining their BA
degree, while the West Cambridge site is undergoing a major expansion and will host a new sports
development. In addition, the Judge Business School, situated on Trumpington Street, provides
management education courses since 1990 and is consistently ranked within the top 20 business
schools globally by the Financial Times. Given that the sites are in relative close
proximity to each other and the area around Cambridge is reasonably flat, one of the favourite
modes of transport for students is the bicycle: a fifth of the journeys in the town is made
by bike, a figure enhanced by the fact that pupils are not permitted to hold car park
permits, except under special circumstances. “Town and Gown”
The relationship between the university and the city has not always been positive. The
phrase Town and Gown is employed to differentiate inhabitants of Cambridge from students at
the university, who sometimes wear academical dress. There are many stories of ferocious
rivalry between the two categories: in 1381, strong clashes brought about attacks and looting
of university properties while locals contested the privileges granted by the government to
the academic staff. Following these events, the Chancellor was given special powers allowing
him to prosecute the criminals and re-establish order in the city. Attempts to reconcile the
two groups followed over time, and in the 16th century agreements were signed to improve
the quality of streets and student accommodation around the city. However, this was followed
by new confrontations when the plague hit Cambridge in 1630 and colleges refused to
help those affected by the disease by locking their sites.
Nowadays, these conflicts have somewhat subsided and the University has become an opportunity
for employment among the population, providing an increased level of wealth in the area.
The enormous growth in the number of high-tech, biotech, providers of services and related
firms situated near the town has been termed the Cambridge Phenomenon: the addition of
1,500 new, registered companies and as many as 40,000 jobs between 1960 and 2010 has been
directly related to the presence and importance of the educational institution.
Organisation Cambridge is a collegiate university, meaning
that it is made up of self-governing and independent colleges, each with its own property and income.
Most colleges bring together academics and students from a broad range of disciplines,
and within each faculty, school or department within the university, academics from many
different colleges will be found. The faculties are responsible for ensuring
that lectures are given, arranging seminars, performing research and determining the syllabi
for teaching, overseen by the General Board. Together with the central administration headed
by the Vice-Chancellor, they make up the entire Cambridge University. Facilities such as libraries
are provided on all these levels: by the University (the Cambridge University Library), by the
Faculties (Faculty libraries such as the Squire Law Library), and by the individual colleges
(all of which maintain a multi-discipline library, generally aimed mainly at their undergraduates).
Colleges The colleges are self-governing institutions
with their own endowments and property, founded as integral parts of the university. All students
and most academics are attached to a college. Their importance lies in the housing, welfare,
social functions, and undergraduate teaching they provide. All faculties, departments,
research centres, and laboratories belong to the university, which arranges lectures
and awards degrees, but undergraduates receive their supervisions—small-group teaching
sessions, often with just one student—within the colleges. Each college appoints its own
teaching staff and fellows, who are also members of a university department. The colleges also
decide which undergraduates to admit to the university, in accordance with university
regulations. Cambridge has 31 colleges, of which three,
Murray Edwards, Newnham and Lucy Cavendish, admit women only. The other colleges are mixed,
though most were originally all-male. Darwin was the first college to admit both men and
women, while Churchill, Clare, and King’s were the first previously all-male colleges
to admit female undergraduates, in 1972. In 1988 Magdalene became the last all-male college
to accept women. Clare Hall and Darwin admit only postgraduates, and Hughes Hall, Lucy
Cavendish, St Edmund’s and Wolfson admit only mature (i.e. 21 years or older on date of
matriculation) students, encompassing both undergraduate and graduate students. All other
colleges admit both undergraduate and postgraduate students with no age restrictions.
Colleges are not required to admit students in all subjects, with some colleges choosing
not to offer subjects such as architecture, history of art or theology, but most offer
close to the complete range. Some colleges maintain a bias towards certain subjects,
for example with Churchill leaning towards the sciences and engineering, while others
such as St Catharine’s aim for a balanced intake. Others maintain much more informal
reputations, such as for the students of King’s College to hold left-wing political views,
or Robinson College and Churchill College’s attempts to minimise its environmental impact.
Costs to students (accommodation and food prices) vary considerably from college to
college. Similarly, college expenditure on student education also varies widely between
individual colleges. There are also several theological colleges
in Cambridge, separate from Cambridge University, including Westcott House, Westminster College
and Ridley Hall Theological College, that are, to a lesser degree, affiliated to the
university and are members of the Cambridge Theological Federation.
The 31 colleges are: Schools, faculties and departments
In addition to the 31 colleges, the university is made up of over 150 departments, faculties,
schools, syndicates and other institutions. Members of these are usually also members
of one of the colleges and responsibility for running the entire academic programme
of the university is divided amongst them. The university also houses the Institute of
Continuing Education, a centre for part-time study.
A “School” in the University of Cambridge is a broad administrative grouping of related
faculties and other units. Each has an elected supervisory body—the “Council” of the school—comprising
representatives of the constituent bodies. There are six schools:
Teaching and research in Cambridge is organised by faculties. The faculties have different
organisational sub-structures which partly reflect their history and partly their operational
needs, which may include a number of departments and other institutions. In addition, a small
number of bodies entitled ‘Syndicates’ have responsibilities for teaching and research,
e.g. Cambridge Assessment, the University Press, and the University Library.
Central administration Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor
The office of Chancellor of the University, for which there are no term limits, is mainly
ceremonial and is held by David Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, following the
retirement of the Duke of Edinburgh on his 90th birthday in June 2011. Lord Sainsbury
was nominated by the official Nomination Board to succeed him, and Abdul Arain, owner of
a local grocery store, Brian Blessed and Michael Mansfield were also nominated. The election
took place on 14 and 15 October 2011. David Sainsbury won the election taking 2,893 of
the 5,888 votes cast, winning on the first count.
The current Vice-Chancellor is Leszek Borysiewicz. While the Chancellor’s office is ceremonial,
the Vice-Chancellor is the de facto principal administrative officer of the University.
The university’s internal governance is carried out almost entirely by its own members, with
very little external representation on its governing body, the Regent House (though there
is external representation on the Audit Committee, and there are four external members on the
University’s Council, who are the only external members of the Regent House).
Senate and the Regent House The Senate consists of all holders of the
MA degree or higher degrees. It elects the Chancellor and the High Steward, and elected
two members of the House of Commons until the Cambridge University constituency was
abolished in 1950. Prior to 1926, it was the University’s governing body, fulfilling the
functions that the Regent House fulfils today. The Regent House is the University’s governing
body, a direct democracy comprising all resident senior members of the University and the Colleges,
together with the Chancellor, the High Steward, the Deputy High Steward, and the Commissary.
The public representatives of the Regent House are the two Proctors, elected to serve for
one year, on the nomination of the Colleges. Council and the General Board
Although the University Council is the principal executive and policy-making body of the University,
it must report and be accountable to the Regent House through a variety of checks and balances.
It has the right of reporting to the University, and is obliged to advise the Regent House
on matters of general concern to the University. It does both of these by causing notices to
be published by authority in the Cambridge University Reporter, the official journal
of the University. Since January 2005, the membership of the Council has included two
external members, and the Regent House voted for an increase from two to four in the number
of external members in March 2008, and this was approved by Her Majesty the Queen in July
2008. The General Board of the Faculties is responsible
for the academic and educational policy of the University, and is accountable to the
Council for its management of these affairs. Faculty Boards are responsible to the General
Board; other Boards and Syndicates are responsible either to the General Board (if primarily
for academic purposes) or to the Council. In this way, the various arms of the University
are kept under the supervision of the central administration, and thus the Regent House.
Academic year The academic year is divided into three academic
terms, determined by the Statutes of the University. Michaelmas term lasts from October to December;
Lent term from January to March; and Easter term from April to June.
Within these terms undergraduate teaching takes place within eight-week periods called
Full Terms. According to the University statutes, it is a requirement that during this period
all students should live within 10 miles of the Church of St Mary the Great; this is defined
as Keeping term. Pupils can graduate only if they fulfill this condition for nine terms
(three years) when obtaining a Bachelor of Arts or twelve terms (four years) when studying
for a Master of Science, Engineering or Mathematics. These terms are shorter than those of many
other British universities. Undergraduates are also expected to prepare heavily in the
three holidays (known as the Christmas, Easter and Long Vacations).
Teaching Teaching involves a mixture of lectures, organised
by the university departments, and supervisions, organised by the colleges. Science subjects
also involve laboratory sessions, organised by the departments. The relative importance
of these methods of teaching varies according to the needs of the subject. Supervisions
are typically weekly hour-long sessions in which small groups of students (usually between
one and three) meet with a member of the teaching staff or with a doctoral student. Students
are normally required to complete an assignment in advance of the supervision, which they
will discuss with the supervisor during the session, along with any concerns or difficulties
they have had with the material presented in that week’s lectures. The assignment is
often an essay on a subject set by the supervisor, or a problem sheet set by the lecturer. Depending
on the subject and college, students might receive between one and four supervisions
per week. This pedagogical system is often cited as being unique to Cambridge and Oxford
(where “supervisions” are known as “tutorials”). A tutor named William Farish developed the
concept of grading students’ work quantitatively at the University of Cambridge in 1792.
Finances Cambridge is by far the wealthiest university
in the UK and in the whole of Europe, with an endowment of £4.9 billion in 2013. This
is made up of around £2.13 billion tied directly to the university and £2.8 billion to the
colleges. As of 2013, Oxford had an endowment valued at around £3.9 billion. The university’s
operating budget was £1.44 billion in 2013. Each college is an independent charitable
institution with its own endowment, separate from that of the central university endowment.
If ranked on a US university endowment table on most recent figures, Cambridge would rank
fifth compared with the eight Ivy League institutions (subject to market fluctuations) and eleventh
with all US universities. Comparisons between Cambridge’s endowment
and those of other top US universities are, however, inaccurate because being a partially
state-funded public university (although the status of Cambridge as a public university
cannot be compared with US or European public universities as, for example, the state does
not “own” the university and it’s colleges are private institutions), Cambridge receives
a major portion of its income through education and research grants from the British Government.
In 2006–7, it was reported that approximately one third of Cambridge’s income comes from
UK government funding for teaching and research, with another third coming from other research
grants. Endowment income contributes around £130 million. The University also receives
a significant income in annual transfers from the Cambridge University Press.
Benefactions and fundraising In 2000, Bill Gates of Microsoft donated US$210 million
through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to endow the Gates Scholarships for students
from outside the UK seeking postgraduate study at Cambridge.
In 2005 the Cambridge 800th Anniversary Campaign was launched, aimed at raising £1 billion
by 2012—the first US-style university fund-raising campaign in Europe. This aim was reached in
the financial year 2009–2010, raising £1.037 billion.
Collections Libraries
The university has 114 libraries. The Cambridge University Library is the central research
library, which holds over 8 million volumes. It is a legal deposit library, therefore it
is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland. In addition
to the University Library and its dependents, every faculty has a specialised library; for
example, the History Faculty’s Seeley Historical Library possesses more than 100,000 books.
Furthermore, every college has a library as well, partially for the purposes of undergraduate
teaching, and the older colleges often possess many early books and manuscripts in a separate
library. For example Trinity College’s Wren Library has more than 200,000 books printed
before 1800, while Corpus Christi College’s Parker Library possesses one of the greatest
collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, with over 600 manuscripts.
Museums Cambridge University operates eight arts,
cultural, and scientific museums, and a botanic garden. The Fitzwilliam Museum, is the art
and antiquities museum, the Kettle’s Yard is a contemporary art gallery, the Museum
of Archaeology and Anthropology houses the University’s collections of local antiquities,
together with archaeological and ethnographic artefacts from around the world, the Cambridge
University Museum of Zoology houses a wide range of zoological specimens from around
the world and is known for its iconic finback whale skeleton that hangs outside. This Museum
also has specimens collected by Charles Darwin. Other museums include, the Museum of Classical
Archaeology, the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
which is the geology museum of the University, the Polar Museum, part of the Scott Polar
Research Institute which is dedicated to Captain Scott and his men, and focuses on the exploration
of the Polar Regions. The Cambridge University Botanic Garden is
the botanic garden of the University, created in 1831.
Academic profile Research
Cambridge University has research departments and teaching faculties in most academic disciplines.
All research and lectures are conducted by University Departments. The colleges are in
charge of giving or arranging most supervisions, student accommodation, and funding most extracurricular
activities. During the 1990s Cambridge added a substantial number of new specialist research
laboratories on several University sites around the city, and major expansion continues on
a number of sites. Cambridge is a member of the Russell Group,
a network of research-led British universities; the League of European Research Universities;
and the International Alliance of Research Universities. It is also considered part of
the “Golden Triangle”, a geographical concentration of UK university research.
Cambridge has a research partnership with MIT in the United States: the Cambridge–MIT
Institute. Admissions
Procedure Undergraduate applications to Cambridge must
be made through UCAS in time for the early deadline, currently mid-October in the year
before starting. Until the 1980s candidates for all subjects were required to sit special
entrance examinations, since replaced by additional tests for some subjects, such as the Thinking
Skills Assessment and the Cambridge Law Test. The University is considering reintroducing
an admissions exam for all subjects with effect from 2016.
Most applicants who are called for interview will have been predicted at least three A-grade
A-level qualifications relevant to their chosen undergraduate course, or the equivalent in
other qualifications, such as getting at least 7,7,6 for higher-level subjects at IB. The
A* A-level grade (introduced in 2010) now plays a part in the acceptance of applications,
with the university’s standard offer for all courses being set at A*AA. Due to a very high
proportion of applicants receiving the highest school grades, the interview process is crucial
for distinguishing between the most able candidates. The interview is performed by College Fellows,
who evaluate candidates on unexamined factors such as potential for original thinking and
creativity. For exceptional candidates, a Matriculation Offer is sometimes offered,
requiring only two A-levels at grade E or above. In 2006, 5,228 students who were rejected
went on to get 3 A levels or more at grade A, representing about 63% of all applicants
rejected. Strong applicants who are not successful at
their chosen college may be placed in the Winter Pool, where they can be offered places
by other colleges. This is in order to maintain consistency throughout the colleges, some
of which receive more applicants than others. Graduate admission is first decided by the
faculty or department relating to the applicant’s subject. This effectively guarantees admission
to a college—though not necessarily the applicant’s preferred choice.
Access Public debate in the United Kingdom continues
over whether admissions processes at Oxford and Cambridge are entirely merit based and
fair; whether enough students from state schools are encouraged to apply to Cambridge; and
whether these students succeed in gaining entry. In 2007–08, 57% of all successful
applicants were from state schools (roughly 93 percent of all students in the UK attend
state schools). Critics have argued that the lack of state school applicants with the required
grades applying to Cambridge and Oxford has had a negative impact on Oxbridge’s reputation
for many years, and the University has encouraged pupils from state schools to apply for Cambridge
to help redress the imbalance. Others counter that government pressure to increase state
school admissions constitutes inappropriate social engineering. The proportion of undergraduates
drawn from independent schools has dropped over the years, and such applicants now form
a (very large) minority (43%) of the intake. In 2005, 32% of the 3599 applicants from independent
schools were admitted to Cambridge, as opposed to 24% of the 6674 applications from state
schools. In 2008 the University of Cambridge received a gift of £4m to improve its accessibility
to candidates from maintained schools. Cambridge, together with Oxford and Durham, is among
those universities that have adopted formulae that gives a rating to the GCSE performance
of every school in the country to “weight” the scores of university applicants.
With the release of admissions figures, a 2013 article in The Guardian reported that
ethnic minority candidates had lower success rates in individual subjects even when they
had the same grades as white applicants. The University was hence criticised for what was
seen as institutional discrimination against ethnic minority applicants in favour of white
applicants. The University denied the claims of institutional discrimination by stating
the figures didn’t take into account “other variables”. A following article stated that
in the years 2010–2012 ethnic minority applicants to medicine with 3 A* grades or higher were
20% less likely to gain admission than white applicants with similar grades. The University
refused to provide figures for a wider range of subjects claiming it would be too costly.
Reputation and rankings In the last two British Government Research
Assessment Exercise in 2001 and 2008 respectively, Cambridge was ranked first in the country.
In 2005, it was reported that Cambridge produces more PhDs per year than any other British
university (over 30% more than second placed Oxford). In 2006, a Thomson Scientific study
showed that Cambridge has the highest research paper output of any British university, and
is also the top research producer (as assessed by total paper citation count) in 10 out of
21 major British research fields analysed. Another study published the same year by Evidence
showed that Cambridge won a larger proportion (6.6%) of total British research grants and
contracts than any other university (coming first in three out of four broad discipline
fields). The university is also closely linked with
the development of the high-tech business cluster in and around Cambridge, which forms
the area known as Silicon Fen or sometimes the “Cambridge Phenomenon”. In 2004, it was
reported that Silicon Fen was the second largest venture capital market in the world, after
Silicon Valley. Estimates reported in February 2006 suggest that there were about 250 active
startup companies directly linked with the university, worth around US$6 billion.
Cambridge has been highly ranked by most international and UK league tables. In particular, it had
topped the QS World University Rankings from 2010/11 to 2011/12. A 2006 Newsweek overall
ranking, which combined elements of the THES-QS and ARWU rankings with other factors that
purportedly evaluated an institution’s global “openness and diversity”, suggested Cambridge
was sixth around the globe. In The Guardian newspaper’s 2012 rankings, Cambridge had overtaken
Oxford in philosophy, law, politics, theology, maths, classics, anthropology and modern languages.
In the 2009 Times Good University Guide Subject Rankings, it was ranked top (or joint top)
in 34 out of the 42 subjects which it offers. In 2010, according to University Ranking by
Academic Performance (URAP), it is the 2nd university in UK and 11th university in the
world. Publishing
The University’s publishing arm, the Cambridge University Press, is the oldest printer and
publisher in the world, and it is the second largest university press in the world.
Public examinations The university set up its Local Examination
Syndicate in 1858. Today, the syndicate, which is known as Cambridge Assessment, is Europe’s
largest assessment agency and it plays a leading role in researching, developing and delivering
assessments across the globe. Graduation
At the University of Cambridge, each graduation is a separate act of the university’s governing
body, the Regent House, and must be voted on as with any other act. A formal meeting
of the Regent House, known as a Congregation, is held for this purpose.
Graduates receiving an undergraduate degree wear the academic dress that they were entitled
to before graduating: for example, most students becoming Bachelors of Arts wear undergraduate
gowns and not BA gowns. Graduates receiving a postgraduate degree (e.g. PhD or Master’s)
wear the academic dress that they were entitled to before graduating, only if their first
degree was also from the University of Cambridge; if their first degree is from another university,
they wear the academic dress of the degree that they are about to receive, the BA gown
without the strings if they are under 24 years of age, or the MA gown without strings if
they are 24 and over. Graduates are presented in the Senate House college by college, in
order of foundation or recognition by the university, except for the royal colleges.
During the congregation, graduands are brought forth by the Praelector of their college,
who takes them by the right hand, and presents them to the vice-chancellor for the degree
they are about to take. The Praelector presents graduands with the following Latin statement,
substituting “____” with the name of the degree: The now-graduate then rises, bows and leaves
the Senate House through the Doctor’s door, where he or she receives his or her certificate,
into Senate House passage. Student life
Students’ Union The Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU)
serves to represent all the students within the University which automatically become
members upon arrival. It was founded in 1964 as the Students’ Representative Council (SRC);
the six most important positions in the Union are occupied by Sabbatical officers.
Sport Rowing is a particularly popular sport at
Cambridge, and there are competitions between colleges, notably the bumps races, and against
Oxford, the Boat Race. There are also Varsity matches against Oxford in many other sports,
ranging from cricket and rugby, to chess and tiddlywinks. Athletes representing the University
in certain sports entitle them to apply for a Cambridge Blue at the discretion of the
Blues Committee, consisting of the captains of the thirteen most prestigious sports. There
is also the self-described “unashamedly elite” Hawks’ Club, which is for men only, whose
membership is usually restricted to Cambridge Full Blues and Half Blues.
The University of Cambridge Sports Centre opened in August 2013. Phase 1 includes a
37x34m Sports Hall, a Fitness Suite, a Strength and Conditioning Room, a Multi-Purpose Room
and Eton and Rugby Fives courts. Future developments will include Squash courts, indoor and outdoor
tennis courts and a swimming pool. The University also has an Athletics Track
at Wilberforce Road, an Indoor Cricket School and Fenner’s Cricket Ground.
Societies Numerous student-run societies exist in order
to encourage people who share a common passion or interest to periodically meet or discuss.
As of 2010, there were 751 registered societies. In addition to these, individual colleges
often promote their own societies and sports teams.
The Cambridge Union serves as a focus for debating. Drama societies notably include
the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) and the comedy club Footlights, which are known for producing
well-known show-business personalities. The Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra explores
a range of programmes, from popular symphonies to lesser known works; membership of the orchestra
is composed of students of the university. Newspapers and radio
Student newspapers include the long-established Varsity and its younger rival, The Cambridge
Student. Recently, both have been challenged by the emergence of The Tab, Cambridge’s first
student tabloid. Together with colleagues from Anglia Ruskin University, students run
a radio station, Cam FM, which provides members with an opportunity to produce and host weekly
radio shows and promotes broadcast journalism, sports coverage, comedy and drama.
JCR and MCR In addition to university-wide representation,
students can benefit from their own college student unions, which are known as JCR (Junior
Combination Room) for undergraduates and MCR (Middle Combination Room) for postgraduates.
These serve as a link between college staff and members and consists of officers elected
annually between the fellow students; individual JCR and MCRs also report to CUSU, which offers
training courses for some of the most delicate positions within the body.
Formal Halls and May Balls One of the most distinguishing aspects of
student life at Cambridge is the possibility to take part in formal dinners at college.
These are called Formal Hall and occur regularly during term time. Students sit down for a
meal in their gowns, while Fellows eat separately on High Table: the beginning and end of the
function is usually celebrated with a prayer. Special formals are organized for events such
as Christmas or the Commemoration of Benefactors. After the exam period, May Week is held and
it is customary to celebrate by attending May Balls. These are all-night long lavish
parties held in the colleges where food and drinks are served and entertainment is provided.
TIME magazine argues that some of the larger May Balls are among the best private parties
in the word. Suicide Sunday, the first day of May Week, is a popular date for organizing
garden parties. Notable alumni and academics
Over the course of its history, a sizeable number of Cambridge alumni have become notable
in their fields, both academic, and in the wider world. Depending on criteria, affiliates
of the University of Cambridge have won between 85 and 88 Nobel prizes, more than any other
institution according to some counts. Former undergraduates of the university have won
a grand total of 61 Nobel prizes, 13 more than the undergraduates of any other university.
Cambridge academics have also won 8 Fields Medals and 2 Abel Prizes (since the award
was first distributed in 2003). Mathematics and sciences
Perhaps most of all, the university is renowned for a long and distinguished tradition in
mathematics and the sciences. Among the most famous of Cambridge natural
philosophers is Sir Isaac Newton, who spent the majority of his life at the university
and conducted many of his now famous experiments within the grounds of Trinity College. Sir
Francis Bacon, responsible for the development of the scientific method, entered the university
when he was just twelve, and pioneering mathematicians John Dee and Brook Taylor soon followed.
Other ground-breaking mathematicians to have studied at the university include Hardy, Littlewood
and De Morgan, three of the most renowned pure mathematicians in modern history; Sir
Michael Atiyah, one of the most important mathematicians of the last half-century; William
Oughtred, the inventor of the logarithmic scale; John Wallis, the inventor of modern
calculus; Srinivasa Ramanujan, the self-taught genius who made incomparable contributions
to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions; and, perhaps
most importantly of all, James Clerk Maxwell, who is considered to have brought about the
second great unification of Physics (the first being accredited to Newton) with his classical
electromagnetic theory. In biology, Charles Darwin, famous for developing
the theory of natural selection, was a Cambridge man, though his education at the university
was intended to allow him to become a clergyman. Subsequent Cambridge biologists include Francis
Crick and James Watson, who worked out a model for the three-dimensional structure of DNA
whilst working at the university’s Cavendish Laboratory along with leading X-ray crystallographer
Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin. More recently, Sir Ian Wilmut, the man who was
responsible for the first cloning of a mammal with Dolly the Sheep in 1996, was a graduate
student at Darwin College. Famous naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough graduated
from the university, while the ethologist Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert
on chimpanzees did a PhD in Ethology at Darwin College.
The university can be considered the birthplace of the computer, with mathematician Charles
Babbage having designed the world’s first computing system as early as the mid-1800s.
Alan Turing went on to devise what is essentially the basis for modern computing and Maurice
Wilkes later created the first programmable computer. The webcam was also invented at
Cambridge University, as a means for scientists to avoid interrupting their research and going
all the way down to the laboratory dining room only to be disappointed by an empty coffee
pot. Ernest Rutherford, generally regarded as the
father of nuclear physics, spent much of his life at the university, where he worked closely
with the likes of Niels Bohr, a major contributor to the understanding of the structure and
function of the atom, J. J. Thomson, discoverer of the electron, Sir James Chadwick, discoverer
of the neutron, and Sir John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, the partnership responsible
for first splitting the atom. J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project that developed
the atomic bomb, also studied at Cambridge under Rutherford and Thompson.
Astronomers Sir John Herschel and Sir Arthur Eddington both spent much of their careers
at Cambridge, as did Paul Dirac, the discoverer of antimatter and one of the pioneers of Quantum
Mechanics; Stephen Hawking, the founding father of the study of singularities and the university’s
long-serving Lucasian Professor of Mathematics until 2009; and Lord Martin Rees, the current
Astronomer Royal and Master of Trinity College. John Polkinghorne, also a Cambridge mathematician
prior to his entrance into the Anglican ministry, was knighted and received the Templeton Prize
for his work reconciling science and religion. Other significant Cambridge scientists include
Henry Cavendish, the discoverer of hydrogen; Frank Whittle, co-inventor of the jet engine;
Lord Kelvin, who formulated the original Laws of Thermodynamics; William Fox Talbot, who
invented the camera, Alfred North Whitehead, Einstein’s major opponent; Sir Jagadish Chandra
Bose, the man dubbed “the father of radio science”; Lord Rayleigh, one of the most pre-eminent
physicists of the 20th century; Georges Lemaître, who first proposed the Big Bang Theory; and
Frederick Sanger, the last man to win two Nobel prizes.
Humanities, music and art In the humanities, Greek studies were inaugurated
at Cambridge in the early sixteenth century by Desiderius Erasmus during the few years
he held a professorship there; seminal contributions to the field were made by Richard Bentley
and Richard Porson. John Chadwick was associated with Michael Ventris in the decipherment of
Linear B. The eminent Latinist A. E. Housman taught at Cambridge but is more widely known
as a poet. Simon Ockley made a significant contribution to Arabic Studies.
Distinguished Cambridge academics in other fields include economists such as John Maynard
Keynes, Thomas Malthus, Alfred Marshall, Milton Friedman, Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa, and
Amartya Sen, another former Master of Trinity College. Philosophers Sir Francis Bacon, Bertrand
Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Leo Strauss, George Santayana, G. E. M. Anscombe, Sir Karl
Popper, Sir Bernard Williams, Allama Iqbal and G. E. Moore were all Cambridge scholars,
as were historians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay, Frederic William Maitland, Lord
Acton, Joseph Needham, E. H. Carr, Hugh Trevor-Roper, E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Niall Ferguson
and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, and famous lawyers such as Glanville Williams, Sir James
Fitzjames Stephen, and Sir Edward Coke. Religious figures at the university have included
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and many of his predecessors; William Tyndale,
the pioneer biblical translator; Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley, all Cambridge
men, known as the “Oxford martyrs” from the place of their execution; Benjamin Whichcote
and the Cambridge Platonists; William Paley, the Christian philosopher known primarily
for formulating the teleological argument for the existence of God; William Wilberforce
and Thomas Clarkson, largely responsible for the abolition of the slave trade; leading
Evangelical churchman Charles Simeon; John William Colenso, the bishop of Natal who developed
views on the interpretation of Scripture and relations with native peoples that seemed
dangerously radical at the time; John Bainbridge Webster and David F. Ford, theologians of
significant repute; and six winners of the Templeton Prize, the highest accolade for
the study of religion since its foundation in 1972.
Composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, William Sterndale Bennett,
Orlando Gibbons and, more recently, Alexander Goehr, Thomas Adès, John Rutter, Julian Anderson
and Judith Weir were all at Cambridge. The university has also produced some of today’s
leading instrumentalists and conductors, including Colin Davis, John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington,
Trevor Pinnock, Andrew Manze, Richard Egarr, Mark Elder, Richard Hickox, Christopher Hogwood,
Andrew Marriner, David Munrow, Simon Standage, Endellion Quartet and Fitzwilliam Quartet.
Although known primarily for its choral music, the university has also produced members of
contemporary bands such as Radiohead, Hot Chip, Procol Harum,songwriter and entertainer
Jonathan King, Henry Cow, and the singer-songwriter Nick Drake.
Artists Quentin Blake, Roger Fry and Julian Trevelyan also attended as undergraduates,
as did sculptors Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn and Sir Anthony Caro, and photographers Antony
Armstrong-Jones, Sir Cecil Beaton and Mick Rock.
Literature Important writers to have studied at the university
include the prominent Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe, his fellow University
Wits Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene, arguably the first professional authors in England,
and John Fletcher, who collaborated with Shakespeare on The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII and the
lost Cardenio and succeeded him as house playwright of The King’s Men. Samuel Pepys matriculated
in 1650, ten years before he began his diary, the original manuscripts of which are now
housed in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College. Lawrence Sterne, whose novel Tristram Shandy
is judged to have inspired many modern narrative devices and styles, was admitted in 1733.
In the following century, the novelists W. M. Thackeray, best known for Vanity Fair,
Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho! and Water Babies, and Samuel Butler, remembered
for The Way of All Flesh and Erewhon, were all at Cambridge. Ghost story writer M. R.
James served as provost of King’s College from 1905 to 1918. Modernist writers to have
attended the university include E. M. Forster, Rosamond Lehmann, Vladmir Nabokov, Christopher
Isherwood and Malcolm Lowry. Although not a student, Virginia Woolf wrote her essay
A Room of One’s Own while in residence at Newnham College. Playwright J. B. Priestley,
medievalist and fantasy writer C. S. Lewis, physicist and novelist C. P. Snow and children’s
writer A. A. Milne were also among those who passed through the university in the early
20th century. They were followed by the postmodernists Patrick White, Iris Murdoch, Eudora Welty,
J. G. Ballard, Sir Kingsley Amis and the early postcolonial writer E. R. Braithwaite. More
recently, the university has educated the comedy writers Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe and
Howard Jacobson, the popular novelists A. S. Byatt, Sir Salman Rushdie, Nick Hornby,
Zadie Smith, Robert Harris and Sebastian Faulks, the successful action writers Michael Crichton
and Jin Yong, and contemporary playwrights and screenwriters such as Julian Fellowes,
Stephen Poliakoff, Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett and Sir Peter Shaffer.
Cambridge poets include Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene, the Metaphysical poets
John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvell, John Milton, renowned for his late epic Paradise
Lost, the leading Restoration poet and playwright John Dryden, the pre-romantic Thomas Gray,
best known his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, William Wordsworth and Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, whose joint work Lyrical Ballads is often seen to mark the beginning
of the Romantic movement, later Romantics such as Lord Byron and the postromantic Alfred,
Lord Tennyson, classical scholar and lyric poet A. E. Housman, war poets Siegfried Sassoon
and Rupert Brooke, modernist T. E. Hulme, confessional poets Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath
and John Berryman, and, more recently, Cecil Day-Lewis, Joseph Brodsky, Kathleen Raine
and Geoffrey Hill. In all, at least nine of the Poets Laureate graduated from Cambridge.
The university has also made a notable contribution to Literary Criticism, having produced, among
others, F. R. Leavis, I. A. Richards, C. K. Ogden and William Empson, often collectively
known as the Cambridge Critics, the important Marxists Raymond Williams, sometimes regarded
as the founding father of Cultural Studies, and Terry Eagleton, author of Literary Theory:
An Introduction, the most successful academic book ever published, the Aesthetician Harold
Bloom, the New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt, and an extensive group of distinguished biographical
writers such as Lytton Strachey, a central figure in the largely Cantabridgian Bloomsbury
Group, Peter Ackroyd and Claire Tomalin. Actors and directors such as Sir Ian McKellen,
Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Michael Redgrave, James Mason, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie,
John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Simon Russell Beale, Tilda Swinton, Thandie Newton,
Rachel Weisz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Dan Stevens, Jamie Bamber,
Lily Cole and David Mitchell all studied at the university, as did recently acclaimed
directors such as Mike Newell, Sam Mendes, Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass, Chris Weitz
and John Madden. Sports
Athletes who are university graduates include more than 50 Olympic medalists; the legendary
Chinese six-time world table tennis champion Deng Yaping; the sprinter and athletics hero
Harold Abrahams; the inventors of the modern game of Football, Winton and Thring; and George
Mallory, the famed mountaineer and possibly the first man ever to reach the summit of
Mount Everest. Education
Notable educationalists to have attended the university include the founders and early
professors of Harvard University, including John Harvard himself; Emily Davies, founder
of Girton College, the first residential higher education institution for women, and John
Haden Badley, founder of the first mixed-sex school in England.
Politics Cambridge also has a strong reputation in
the fields of politics and governance, having educated:
15 British Prime Ministers, including Robert Walpole, considered to be the first Prime
Minister of Great Britain. At least 23 foreign Heads of Government, including
the Prime Ministers of India, Pakistan, South Africa, Poland, Australia, France, Singapore,
Sri Lanka, Malta, and Jordan. At least 9 monarchs, including Edward VII,
George VI, King Peter II of Yugoslavia, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Sofía of Spain,
Charles, Prince of Wales and a large number of other royals.
3 Signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence.
Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England (1653–58).
Literature and popular culture Throughout its history, the University has
featured heavily in literature and artistic works by various authors. Here below are some
notable examples. In The Reeve’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer, the two main characters are students at Soler Halle. It is believed
that this refers to King’s Hall, which is now part of Trinity College.
In The Prelude (1805 poem) by William Wordsworth, the entire third chapter is based on the poet’s
time at Cambridge. In Memoriam A.H.H. (1849 poem) by Alfred,
Lord Tennyson is a requiem written in memory of the poet’s Cambridge friend Arthur Henry
Hallam. The poem features numerous references to their time together at Trinity College,
“the reverend walls in which of old I wore the gown”.
In Doctor Thorne (1858 novel) by Anthony Trollope, Frank Gresham, heir to the near-bankrupt Gresham
estate, is a Cambridge student. Despite his family’s objections, he is determined to return
to the University and study for a degree. In Portraits of Places (1883 travel book),
Henry James describes the college backs as “the loveliest confusion of gothic windows
and ancient trees, of grassy banks and mossy balustrades, of sun‐chequered avenues and
groves, of lawns and gardens and terraces, of single arched bridges spanning the little
stream, which … looks as if it had been ‘turned on’ for ornamental purposes.”
In the Sherlock Holmes series (1887–1927 collection of novels and short stories) by
Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes reveals that he first developed his methods of deduction while
an undergraduate. The author Dorothy L. Sayers suggests that, given details in two of the
Adventures, Holmes must have been at Cambridge rather than Oxford and that “of all the Cambridge
colleges, Sidney Sussex College perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man
in Holmes’ position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place
him there”. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891 novel)
by Thomas Hardy, Angel Clare rebels against his family’s plans to have him sent to Cambridge
and ordained as a minister of the Church of England. His older brothers are both Cambridge
graduates and Cuthbert is the dean of a Cambridge college.
The Longest Journey (1907 novel) by E. M. Forster begins at Cambridge University.
In the Psmith series (1908–1923 collection of novels) by P. G. Wodehouse, both the title
character and Mike, his closest friend, study at Cambridge University.
In Jacob’s Room (1922 novel) by Virginia Woolf, the protagonist Jacob Flanders attends Cambridge.
Darkness at Pemberley (1932 novel) by T. H. White features St Bernard’s College, a fictionalised
version of Queens’ College. Glory (1932 novel) by Vladimir Nabokov is
the story of an émigré student who escapes from Russia and is educated at Cambridge before
returning to his native country. Out of the Silent Planet (1938 novel) by C.
S. Lewis begins at Cambridge University, where Elwin Ransom, the protagonist of The Space
Trilogy, is Professor of Philology. The trilogy also features the University of Edgestow,
a fictional institution which is essentially a third Oxbridge.
The Masters (1951 novel) and The Affair (1960 Novel) by C. P. Snow, both feature an unnamed
fictional college, partly based on the author’s own, Christ’s.
The Millstone (1965 novel) by Margaret Drabble is the story of a young female Cambridge academic
who becomes pregnant and is forced into a completely alien lifestyle.
In many novels and plays by Thomas Bernhard (written between 1970 and 2006), Cambridge
(Geistesnest) is the refuge of a Geistesmensch escaping from Austria.
Maurice (1971 novel) by E. M. Forster is about the homosexual relationship of two Cambridge
undergraduates. Porterhouse Blue (1974 novel) and its sequel
Grantchester Grind (1995 Novel) by Tom Sharpe both feature Porterhouse, a fictional Cambridge
college. Oxbridge Blues (1984 TV Drama) by Frederic
Raphael features Cambridge University. In Professional Foul (1977 play) by Tom Stoppard,
the main character, Anderson, is Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University.
In Shada (abandoned 1979 Doctor Who serial released on video in 1992) by Douglas Adams,
much of the action takes place at the fictional St. Cedd’s College, Cambridge.
Timescape (1980 novel) by Gregory Benford is the story of a group of scientists at the
University of Cambridge and their attempts to warn the past about a series of global
disasters that have left the world in a state of disarray. Benford’s short story, Anomalies,
is also set at Cambridge, where the main character, an amateur astronomer from Ely, meets the
Master of Jesus College. Chariots of Fire (1981 film) by Hugh Hudson
is partly set at Cambridge between 1919 and 1924, when protagonist Harold Abrahams (played
by Ben Cross) was a student there. Floating Down to Camelot (1985 novel) by David
Benedictus is set entirely at Cambridge University and was inspired by the author’s time at Churchill
College. In Redback (1986 novel), Howard Jacobson creates
the fictional Malapert College, drawing on his experiences at Downing College and Selwyn
College. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987
Novel) by Douglas Adams contains considerable material recycled from the aborted Shada,
therefore much of the action likewise takes place at St. Cedd’s College, Cambridge.
The Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles (1990s novels) by Susanna Gregory, is a series of
murder mysteries set in and around the university in medieval Cambridge.
Avening Angel (novel)|Avenging Angel (1990 novel) by Kwame Anthony Appiah is largely
set at the University. In Stephen Fry’s novels The Liar (1993) and
Making History (1997), the main characters attend Cambridge University.
Wittgenstein’s Poker (2001 novel) by David Edmonds recounts the celebrated confrontation
between Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cambridge University’s Moral Sciences Club.
Cambridge Spies (2003 TV drama) is about the famous Cambridge Five double agents who started
their careers at Cambridge: Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt.
In Rock ‘n Roll (2006 play) by Tom Stoppard, Cambridge University is a key setting.
The Newsroom character Mackenzie McHale attended Cambridge and was the President of the Cambridge
Union Society. The West Wing character Will Bailey also attended Cambridge on a Marshall
Scholarship and was the President of the Cambridge Union Society.
Gallery