University of Cambridge Area Links Scheme

Although the University of Cambridge has a world-class reputation, some sixth formers feel that Cambridge is not for them – a misperception which can deter them from applying. To address this, the Area Links Scheme was set up in 2000 to provide schools and colleges with a straightforward way to contact the university, and to help the Cambridge colleges build more effective relationships with individual schools and colleges throughout the UK.

Cambridge Area Links

Under the scheme, each undergraduate college at Cambridge is linked with one or more local authority, London borough, nation and region in the UK. Each of the colleges employs a dedicated schools liaison officer (SLO) to provide support to and develop relationships with schools in their link areas. This means every UK school has a named point of contact with the university.

The work of the SLOs is tailored to the specific needs of their link areas. Where a college is linked with an area some distance from Cambridge, the SLO might spend a week or more at a time in the area, visiting schools and running events. SLOs in colleges with closer link areas may focus more on events which bring young people and teachers into their college.

For example, Downing College is linked with Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Downing’s SLO runs a series of information days for Year 12 students aged 16-17 in the south west, bringing admissions staff and students from the university into schools and colleges. Each summer the SLO organises a free residential event in college so that potential applicants who would not otherwise get the opportunity to visit the university can experience Cambridge for themselves.

In London, Clare College runs a mentoring scheme for young people in Hackney. Every year the college runs a mentor scheme for Year 12 students in partnership with Linklaters. The Year 12 students work with mentors from the company as well as with students from Clare. The sessions focus on improving interview skills, how to write a good personal statement and how to choose a university and course.


Having a direct link to a specific team of admissions and outreach staff can help open the door into the university. Schools and potential applicants no longer feel they are dealing with a large institution, but rather with a smaller and more intimate one which has links with, and a good understanding of, their local context.

Tom Levinson
Head of Widening Participation, University of Cambridge

In 2012/13, through the Area Links Scheme, Cambridge colleges engaged with 73,000 students and 5,000 teachers from 4,700 schools across 2,000 events.



Policy area

Related case studies