Why I love Lucy

25th November 1994 at 00:00
As The TES prepares to sponsor a new research fellowship at Lucy Cavendish, the Cambridge college for mature women students, Pauline Perry explains why the appointment is significant and timely. Most young mothers-to-be find that their time in the delivery room, waiting for the birth of their first child, is a fairly fraught occasion, on which their attention is wholly devoted to the physical and emotional process of giving birth. Not so for Jennifer Nott, now a first-year student at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge, who managed to take a three-hour A-level examination while in labour.

She recalls vividly writing the paper with the midwife sitting on one side of the bed and the invigilator on the other, but despite these unusual examination conditions, she got a grade A in her A-level examination, a necessary condition for her entrance to Cambridge. After a 12 months' pause in her career to look after her baby son, she took up her place at Lucy Cavendish in October this year.

Her story exemplifies the determination and often substantial sacrifice made by the mature women students who each year enter the only college of its kind in the UK, and possibly in the world.

In a university like Cambridge, which has far more applications from highly qualified 18-year-olds than it can possibly handle, mature students are still a rarity. Lucy Cavendish, however, caters exclusively for mature women at Cambridge, and provides them with the tutorial and academic support which they find essential to maintaining the competitive edge they need to succeed in the university's academically rarefied and still male-dominated atmosphere.

The students come from a variety of backgrounds, many having achieved success in non-academic careers before making a conscious decision to change direction. Two first-years are former army officers, one is a successful author. Some have run their own business, one worked as a highly successful model, one is a former croupier, one sang with a rock band and another was a ballet dancer.

Whatever their background, they share two common characteristics; they are extremely bright - bright enough to compete as equals with the very best of the 18-plus generation, from week one of their first term - and they are very determined.

All of this makes Lucy Cavendish a very special place. Still small, (under 200 students, half of whom are postgraduate and half undergraduate), it generates a tremendous air of commitment, enjoyment, warmth and optimism, helped by the fact that many of the fellows of the college are women who themselves studied as mature students, and who therefore understand very well some of the problems with which their students are coping.

The results, however, speak for themselves. Not only are Lucy Cavendish students successful in their future careers, whether in academic life, public sector work or in private sector business, but the university itself has included Lucy Cavendish in all its submissions for teaching quality ratings to the Higher Education Funding Council, finding that the quality of care for mature students which the college provides is always much praised by the visiting assessment teams.

Operating on a minimal budget, with very few of the wealthy endowments enjoyed by the former men's colleges of Cambridge, Lucy Cavendish is now turning its attention to building up its research profile, through externally-funded research posts. It seems particularly appropriate that The Times Educational Supplement should sponsor a research fellowship in educational policy at the college, and it is a very imaginative decision on the part of The TES and of News International to offer to a profession which is still predominantly populated by women, opportunities for women to rise to senior positions in the academic world. Lucy Cavendish College has formal exemption from the provisions of the Equal Opportunities Act, and so can advertise academic posts for women only, providing in a small but significant way a righting of the gender balance in academic life.

Education is, alas, still too forcibly an example of the steep-sided pyramid which women must climb in their careers. The positions at the top, whether administrative, inspectorial or academic, still tend to be dominated by men, despite their small number within the profession as a whole.

A research fellowship at Cambridge, in the field of educational policy, will provide a very useful platform for the woman appointed to launch herself into either an academic or a political career, and the opportunity to give a TES-sponsored lecture presenting the findings of her research will also offer a superb opportunitv to publicise her work.

The field of educational policy is one which has been all too little represented within the research community over the 1990s. Although we have lived in an era where educational policy has probably moved at its fastest rate this century, very little reflective and scholarly work has been devoted to its study. Thousands of words of commentary and armchair criticism do not replace a more fundamental and thorough study of the making and implementation of educational policy and this surely is a very opportune time to launch an initiative which promises just such a reflection.

Lucy Cavendish looks forward to welcoming its TES Research Fellow in Education in 1995. She will join a community which buzzes with academic and social activity, and which, in a way out of all proportion to its size, contributes to the international standing of women in academic life.

Baroness Perry is president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.

LUCY CAVENDISH COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE. TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP IN EDUCATIONAL POLICY Applications are invited from suitably qualified women* wishing to pursue research in the field of educational policy, for a one-year research fellowship at Lucy Cavendish College in the academic year 199596.

Lucy Cavendish is a college of the University of Cambridge which specialises in offering opportunities to mature women at undergraduate and postgraduate level. The TES Research Fellow will form part of a small and vibrant community of under 200 women, which includes five other externally funded research fellows, and several postgraduate students in the field of education.

Candidates are asked to submit a CV, together with an essay of around 1,000 words outlining the topic they propose to undertake and the method by which they will pursue their enquiry. Those with an interest in the relationship between educational policy-making and the media will be particularly welcome, as will applications from those who, like many of the fellows and students at Lucy Cavendish, have had a break at some stage in their career.

The successful applicant's essay will be published in The Times Educational Supplement and the report of her year's research will be presented at a public seminar in the autumn after completion of the project. The report may also be published by The Times Educational Supplement in a free-standing publication.

The candidate appointed will be expected to reside in or near Cambridge during term times for the academic year. Accommodation in Lucy Cavendish could be available at a reasonable rent to the candidate appointed, and she will enjoy access to all the privileges of a research fellow of the college, including dining privileges and the use of college and university facilities. The value of the Fellowship is Pounds 12,000 per annum.

Application forms and more information about the college can be obtained from: The President's Secretary, Lucy Cavendish College, Lady Margaret Road, Cambridge CB3 OBU to whom applications should be returned by February 10 1995.

Interviews will be held in Cambridge in early March.

*Lucy Cavendish College has exemption from the provisions of the Equal Opportun

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