Cambridge's Adjustment criticised for being 'unfair' and 'disruptive'

University of Cambridge

Only around 1,000 candidates meet the necessary criteria for the scheme

The criteria for Cambridge's Adjustment scheme are 'not fair', according to some students.

In March, TSR reported that up to 100 places would be available due to Cambridge entering Adjustment for the first time ever this year.

But the vast majority of students will not be eligible to compete for these spaces.

TSR member Doones found an FOI request that revealed that 1,106 candidates have qualified for the scheme, with law, medicine and maths being the courses with the largest numbers of qualifying candidates.


Students will have to meet the following requirements in order to be reconsidered:

  • You must have applied to Cambridge during the main application cycle
  • You must have been interviewed by Cambridge but rejected at that stage
  • You must meet three of the specific widening participation criteria
  • You must have met and exceeded the terms of your firm offer (e.g. your firm offer is A*AA and you get A*A*A)

A place for your course also has to be available, because Cambridge will only consider you for the same course you originally applied for. They say they will provide a list of courses with spaces available in August.

The widening participation criteria, or contextual flags, are:

  • Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) — postcode must be in bottom 30% of your region
  • Output Area Classification (OAC2011) — postcode must be in area with less advantaged socio-economic characteristics and/or low progression to the University of Cambridge.
  • Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) — postcode must be in bottom 40% of areas ranked by this measure
  • Attending a school/college for post-16 education where fewer than five students have been made an offer by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge over the past five years
  • Attending a maintained sector school/college post-16
  • Declaring on your UCAS application that you have spent time in local authority care

Cambridge has contacted those students who are eligible based on these criteria.

The process

Cambridge's Adjustment process will open at 8am on Thursday, 15 August 2019 and will close at 1pm the same day.

Students will be able to express their interest by an online registration form, which will be followed by a call back from an administrator at the Cambridge Admissions Office.

Adjustment applications will be considered by the Cambridge colleges during the afternoon of Thursday, 15 August 2019, and applicants will hear the outcome that evening. There will be no further interview as part of the Adjustment application process.


Cambridge has come under fire for not using Adjustment as it is designed, that is to allow students to go to a better university regardless of whether they applied there originally.

TSR member nulli tertius said: “Adjustment was created to allow students to ‘trade up’ if their results exceeded expectations. Yet Cambridge is expressly not allowing it to be used for that purpose but rather to create yet another repechage for their existing applicants.

“I think the answer is that Adjustment is disruptive to other universities. There is insufficient justification for that disruption unless Cambridge operate it as designed I realise Cambridge would wish to interview but there is no reason that it could not conduct pooled interviews the week after results day.”

But MaxReid said that it “makes sense to fill up empty spaces. I missed my offer in 2015 and the place should obviously have been offered to a better candidate through Adjustment.”


Others have debated the fairness of basing eligibility on socioeconomic status rather than ability.

TSR member Fimum said: “Is it fair to be excluded from Cambridge Adjustment 2019 simply because you're from a good school and postcode, these motives don't take into account of the years of hard graft some students make to achieve good grades. Surely it should be on ability, final results and the capability to succeed?”

And politicsandtea partially agrees, saying: “I would have been eligible for the scheme a year ago, when I lived in my old house. I have recently moved, however, and despite not having a better financial situation are now not eligible.

“Then again no system will be perfect and many kids who didn't go to the good schools that you talk about simply didn't get the same level of prep for interview, personal statement etc. and thus the system is unfair either way.

“It's just trying to address an imbalance and I get the feeling it's still going to be VERY competiitve with only the kids who marginally missed out on a place last time getting in (e.g they were pooled and rejected).”

But D7E thinks Cambridge is in the right: “Like they say on their site, it's for improving diversity. I'm sorry if you're one of those people not deprived, that makes you the norm there. Besides if you’re not deprived you should have been able to get your offer if you met the standard, first time around.”

Will Oxford follow suit?

There has also been talk on TSR about whether Oxford will enter Adjustment next year.

Doones said: “I imagine they will be looking at how this works for Cambridge. But it's worth noting Oxford offers are often lower anyway so they put more emphasis on their admissions tests and their interviews.

“Also not all universities are in Adjustment — e.g. Imperial and LSE don't participate either.

“Very very few students end up changing university via Adjustment, not least because most are perfectly happy with their firm choice.”

And sophia1928 said entering into Adjustment would make Cambridge more popular, so Oxford should do the same: “I imagine most applicants will be flocking to Cambridge instead of Oxford for the next application cycle then. It would make sense for Oxford to follow suit.”

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