Trinity reclaims place as top Cambridge college

Batch of firsts puts college at head of Tompkins table

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Tuesday 14 July 2009 00:00

Its illustrious alumni include six prime ministers and members of the Royal Family, including the Prince of Wales. Yet Trinity, Cambridge's largest college, has been notable by its absence from the top of the university's degree league table of its 29 colleges for more than a decade.

Until now, that is. One in three of its graduates this summer gained firsts, meaning that after 11 years the college has once again won pole position in the Tompkins table.

The table was compiled exclusively for The Independent by Peter Tompkins, himself a Trinity College alumnus who is now a consulting actuary.

This year 600 students graduated from Trinity, around 200 of whom obtained firsts. "It is more difficult for a larger college to top the table," said Mr Tompkins. "Smaller colleges can specialise and keep their average up. It is a considerable achievement and Trinity was quite a way ahead of the other colleges."

Trinity, however, prides itself on its size as "one of its key strengths". "It creates a diverse membership from a wide range of backgrounds and with a broad spectrum of interests," the college said. The number of international students at Trinity is higher than the average for Cambridge as a whole. It achieved 68.83 per cent on the table's ranking. In second place was Emmanuel college with 66.99 per cent.

Trinity was even further ahead with the percentage of firsts its students achieved – 33.4 per cent, compared with second-placed Pembroke's 28.1 per cent in this table. Selwyn College, which was the top college last year, slipped to third place in this year's table with a ranking of 66.91 per cent.

Trinity College was founded in 1546 by Henry VIII and has kept up royal traditions ever since. Among royalty educated at the college are King Edward VII, King George VI and the Prince of Wales. It boasts on its website: "Princes, spies, poets and prime ministers have been taught here."

Other famous alumni include Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Alfred Tennyson and Bertrand Russell.

Foreign dignitaries among the former students at the college include Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister of India. The six prime ministers educated at Trinity include Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to be assassinated – he was shot dead in the House of Commons. The most recent was Stanley Baldwin, Conservative Prime Minister from 1924-29 and 1935-37.

Trinity has been described in The Push Guide to Which University 2005 as "arguably the grandest Cambridge college". There is a story, now dismissed as apocryphal, that it is possible to walk from Cambridge to Oxford on land owned by Trinity. Despite the challenge to this report, Trinity is one of the largest landowners among the Cambridge colleges.

Another of Trinity's claims to fame is that it is cited as the inventor of an English – and less sweet – version of crème brûlée, known as "Trinity burnt cream". It was first introduced at Trinity's high table in 1879.

In this year's table, the biggest faller was Sidney Sussex College, which fell from 14th to 22nd place, with just 14.4 per cent of its graduates gaining a first this year.

Top of the pile: The story of Trinity

*Founded by Henry VIII in 1546, by the merger of two existing colleges: Michaelhouse (founded by Hervey de Stanton in 1324), and King's Hall (established by Edward II in 1317 and refounded by Edward III in 1337).

*More members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and more than 160 fellows.

*The wealthiest Oxbridge college with an independent financial endowment of £621m.

*Seen as the most aristocratic of the Cambridge colleges, it has been the academic institution of choice for the Royal Family.

*Members have won 31 Nobel prizes (of the 83 Nobel prizes awarded to members of Cambridge University), four Fields medals (mathematics), one Abel prize (mathematics) and two Templeton prizes (religion).

*Alumni include princes, spies, poets and prime ministers. Perhaps its two most distinguished are Isaac Newton, pictured, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

*The first formal version of the rules of football, known as the Cambridge rules, was drawn up at Trinity in 1848.

Tompkins table 2009

The Tompkins Table allocates 100% score for candidates ranked with a first, 60% for those with a 2-1, 40% for a 2-2 and 20% for a third.

The biggest fall this year was by Sidney Sussex, significantly down from 14th to 22nd. Otherwise, most moves were fairly modest.

The table, which analyses results from all 29 colleges entering students for BA exams, has been compiled since 1981 by Peter Tompkins, a consulting actuary who studied at Trinity College.

      % Firsts
1 (3) Trinity 68.83% 33.40%
2 (2) Emmanuel 66.99% 26.20%
3 (1) Selwyn 66.91% 26.80%
4 (4) Gonville & Caius 66.85% 26.30%
5 (11) St. Catharine's 66.58% 27.10%
6 (10) Pembroke 66.00% 28.10%
7 (6) Churchill 65.48% 25.40%
8 (5) Magdalene 65.35% 23.30%
9 (15) Trinity Hall 65.03% 22.90%
10 (9) Corpus Christi 64.88% 22.00%
11 (7) Jesus 64.81% 21.50%
12 (16) Queens' 64.08% 23.10%
13 (8) Christ's 63.88% 23.20%
14 (20) St. John's 63.51% 21.20%
15 (12) Downing 63.44% 19.70%
16 (17) Peterhouse 62.99% 23.60%
17 (19) King's 62.24% 20.20%
18 (13) Clare 62.18% 19.70%
19 (18) Robinson 62.16% 20.10%
20 (22) Girton 61.80% 17.30%
21 (21) Fitzwilliam 61.23% 18.30%
22 (14) Sidney Sussex 60.75% 14.40%
23 (23) New Hall 60.30% 15.70%
24 (24) Newnham 58.98% 12.20%
25 (25) Homerton 58.25% 13.10%
26 (26) Hughes Hall 56.30% 16.70%
27 (27) Wolfson 55.03% 7.90%
28 (29) St Edmund's 52.96% 9.40%
29 (28) Lucy Cavendish 52.90% 6.70%

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