Emmanuel regains top rung on Cambridge's academic ladder

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The Independent Online

Emmanuel College, Alma Mater of F R Leavis, Griff Rhys Jones and Cecil Parkinson, has been ranked as the best college for academic performance at Cambridge University.

The college, known as Emma at the university, has topped the Tompkins table of exam results for the third time in the past four years. It returns to the top of the table after slumping to fifth place last year.

Until 2003, the college, where 60 per cent of undergraduates come from state schools, had never achieved highly enough to rank top in the tables which began 26 years ago. However the 422-year-old college has dominated the tables since then.

Dr Richard Barnes, the college's senior tutor, attributed much of its success to its recruitment of the brightest students from both state and private schools.

"We have put a lot of effort into our outreach work and have developed links with schools in fairly deprived areas to encourage students to apply to us," Dr Barnes said. "Also we had a period in the mid-1990s when we probably weren't getting the best candidates from independent schools because I think we weren't trusted by them. I think we have overcome that and have built a strong reputation for having a very fair selection process. This means we get excellent applicants from both the state and independent sectors."

The biggest drops in position were seen by King's, Alma Mater of the novelist Zadie Smith, which fell from tenth position last year to 17th, and Robinson, Cambridge's newest college, dating from 1981, which fell from 11th to 18th place. The only big risers this year were Selwyn, up from 19th to 7th, and Corpus Christi, up from 16th to 8th.

Overall, the number of students achieving the coveted first- class degrees fell from 21.9 per cent to 21.2 per cent this year. At Emmanuel, 29.4 per cent of student got firsts. This is in line with performance in recent years but significantly lower than the 34.1 per cent achieved by Trinity when it topped the table in 1998.

The table, which is compiled exclusively for The Independent by Peter Tompkins, a partner at the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, is used by prospective students when they choose a college.

It is also closely monitored by the colleges to see how their performance compares with their rivals. Mr Tompkins has produced the table since he first compiled it "out of curiosity" as a maths undergraduate at Trinity College in 1981.

Mr Tompkins said some colleges had seen their fortunes change dramatically over the years. "Over short periods of time, the same colleges seem to appear pretty consistently at the top and the bottom," he said. " This may be partly because relative published rankings do have some effect on the colleges to which students choose to apply.

"Looking much further back, there are marked differences; Emmanuel was as low as 20th in 1992; Trinity Hall, which came top four years in a row in the 1980s, has languished in the lower half for most of the last decade."

The unofficial table is calculated by awarding colleges five points for a first, three for a 2:1, two for a 2:2, and one for a third. The results are then shown as a percentage of the maximum that would have been achieved if every student had got a first.

The 10 best performing colleges

TOMPKINS TABLE 2006 (2005 position in brackets, also showing percentage s core, and percentage of firsts)

1 (5) Emmanuel 66.64 29.4

2 (2) Gonville & Caius 65.92 27.0

3 (1) St Catharine's 65.91 24.7

4 (6) Pembroke 65.71 28.7

5 (3) Trinity 65.45 27.8

6 (4) Christ's 65.06 26.2

7 (19) Selwyn 64.39 22.8

8 (16) Corpus Christi 63.68 23.5

9 (14) Sidney Sussex 63.63 20.7

10 (7) Jesus 63.36 22.2