A STOURBRIDGE man has praised the town’s MP for help in a fight to get a prestigious Cambridge University college to change its exclusive admissions policy.
Edward Dyas says Sasha Bazhenova, a former star student at Halesowen College, was accepted by Hughes Hall at Cambridge to study physics from autumn 2013 but just weeks before she was due to start Mr Dyas was shocked to hear from university admissions chiefs that she needed to find a guarantor of up to £10,000 per year.
Sasha, a medal-winning amateur swimmer, junior Olympic volleyball player, prize-winning poet and member of Worcester Rowing Club’s first team, had applied for a student loan and university bursary but she was told by Hughes Hall that a guarantor must also be found within three weeks of admission to the top college.
Mr Dyas, the former husband of Sasha's mum, was so incensed by what he described as an “attempt by Cambridge to exclude students from less wealthy backgrounds no matter how gifted or academically high-achieving” that he wrote to Stourbridge MP Margot James whom he credits with having convinced Hughes Hall to eventually drop its requirement for a fee guarantor.
Mr Dyas,, of Ibstock Drive, who runs a small accounting and finance business, said: “I was able to provide the necessary guarantor after Margot urged the bank to speed up their slow communications.
“She also approached the Universities Minister David Willetts MP regarding this attempt at exclusion by Cambridge but due to the independence of universities he couldn’t help.
“Eventually, however, after nine months efforts on my own and Margot James’ part we got Cambridge colleges to drop guarantor restrictions."
Ms James said: “They shouldn’t have been asking for guarantors in my opinion. I didn’t think that was right. There are many students in my constituency who don’t come from homes where somebody could issue such a guarantee.”
She said she regarded the guarantor requirement as an “anomaly” and added: “It was probably created thoughtlessly to protect the college’s finances and when it was challenged they saw the error of their policy and it was quickly put right.”
A University of Cambridge spokesman said financial guarantees were "not normally required for UK undergraduate students in receipt of government support including tuition fee loans" and added: "There is no longer any requirement for a financial guarantee for UK undergraduate students at Hughes Hall.
"Most colleges will, however, write to successful applicants to make them aware that in addition to their tuition fees they will need funds to cover the costs of living in Cambridge, including accommodation.
"The University of Cambridge is committed to the principle that no UK student should be deterred from applying for financial reasons, and to this end has one of the most flexible and generous bursary schemes in the UK."
Sasha, aged 22, who went to Redhill School in Stourbridge before studying arts A levels at King Edward VI College and later science subjects at Halesowen College, is now nearing the end of her first year at Cambridge - and she hopes ultimately to pursue a career as a quantum physicist.