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Introduction of charges for making online applications for admission to postgraduate courses: Notice by the Board of Graduate Studies

In October 2004 the Board of Graduate Studies will introduce provision through the Internet for online application for admission to postgraduate courses. This will bring considerable advantages in speed and accuracy because, inter alia, applicants will be responsible for their own data entry. It will also bring a signal improvement in access to the opportunities offered by the University for postgraduate study.

Although the advent of online application offers the prospect of greatly improved access and efficiency, the Board recognize that there are known dangers in providing free, unrestricted right of system entry on a worldwide basis1. One consequence of this improved facility is expected to be a significant increase in the number and profile of applications dealt with by the Graduate Admissions Offices of the Board and of the University's Faculties and Departments. Other higher educational institutions of comparable stature to the University of Cambridge have experienced increases in applications of around 40-60% when they went online. There will be calculable costs of handling such a large number of applications, which will fall on University Departments and Faculties as well as on the staff of the Board of Graduate Studies. Failure to control the sheer number of applications in a systematic way could obviate the very efficiency and access improvements sought in the first place.

The Board consider it prudent to take steps to control the unwanted effects of online application and to prevent ill-judged or over-optimistic or possibly malicious applications. The most pragmatic and effective solution is to introduce some form of application charge which may be used to cover the necessary extra administration costs. They therefore propose that the University should follow the precedent of other institutions in the imposition of a threshold charge for postgraduate applications in order to protect itself (and bona fide applicants).

The Board propose that a small charge be levied for online applications. Payments would be made by credit card through a secure website. Paper copies would continue to be handled free of charge at present, although applicants will necessarily incur expense through making and posting multiple paper copies. In comparison, almost all US universities charge online application fees of between $50 and $100, and the charge for a paper application is generally higher. UK institutions such as LSE and Warwick charge from £20 to £30 for online applications and £30 to £50 for paper.

The Board have consulted widely within the University: agreement in principle has been obtained from, inter alia, the General Board and from the Graduate Tutors' and Senior Tutors' Committees; the then Presidents of CUSU and the Graduate Union have expressed support for a modest charge providing access issues are adequately addressed.

In order to permit charging for applications it will be necessary to amend the regulations relating to the admission of Graduate Students (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 405). The Board of Graduate Studies have accordingly recommended to the Council that a Grace (Grace 3, p. 1104) be submitted to the Regent House for this purpose.

1 This phenomenon is by no means restricted to higher education. All experience from the provision of free, unrestricted access to 'general enquiry dialogues' is that some form of filtering, delaying or queuing procedure has to be inserted or else the service simply collapses under the sheer number of enquiries. A 'threshold charge' is often employed in these circumstances.


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Cambridge University Reporter 11 August 2004
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.