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Cambridge aims for ethnicity

You can study at Cambridge University even if you are not a super-brain, and you can have a social life too, black and Asian teenagers are told in a new prospectus aimed at encouraging them to apply.

"Geeky" and pretentious students do exist, the prospectus admits, but there are also "lots and lots of completely normal people who are not super-intelligent, and who are here because they did actually work for their A-levels".

The black-covered prospectus and a new video are the work of the university's student-run Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applicants (GEEMA), which aims to raise the number of black and Asian students at Cambridge from the current 8 per cent to the national average of 11 per cent.

The video will be shown to inner-city schools by GEEMA volunteers and university admissions tutors starting this month.

Jobeda Ali, this year's GEEMA liaison officer, who came to study at Cambridge from her east London comprehensive , says: "Deep down, I had always wanted to go to Cambridge, but I didn't get any encouragement from my school or my family. In fact it was a sort of blasphemy to think about it."

Among the attractions of the place, the prospectus lists academic excellence, better job prospects - and extremely long vacations.

The prospectus points out that the university wants to attract applicants from a wide range of backgrounds and may, through its Special Entry Scheme, make lower offers to applicants with potential whose schooling or background would otherwise put Cambridge out of reach.

Both Oxford and Cambridge are embarrassed at the small proportion of their intake from state schools and ethnic minorities. Figures released this week by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, showed that under 20 per cent of those admitted were from comprehensives.

The university interviews more than 99 per cent of those who apply, GEEMA points out. It tells potential applicants to forget the "horror stories" about Oxbridge interviews, such as being thrown a rugger ball and getting in if you catch it. Cambridge interviewers may seem daunting but they are trying to assess intelligence, potential and enthusiasm rather than knowledge, it says.

As for social life, the prospectus concedes that Cambridge is not London or Manchester, but says "you can guarantee you'll meet some brilliant people who will share your social tastes".

"Cambridge is what you make of it," it adds, "and if it ever becomes tedious, London is only 50 minutes away on the train."

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