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An hourglass resting on pebbles running out of sand

Research question

What is 'Cambridge Time' and how does it penalise disabled students at the University of Cambridge?


Project team

  • Denicia Bernard, Student Rep Coordinator, Cambridge University Students Union


Project report

Report: Time Costs Project (PDF)



This project sought to discover whether the concept of 'Cambridge Time', as defined by disabled students themselves, influences the attainment of disabled students. By exploring what Cambridge Time is, how it creates persistent time penalties specifically for disabled students, and how these costs are negotiated / remedied, we hoped to explore barriers to positive attainment in order to mitigate and remove them.

Data were gathered via two surveys of varying length and disclosure, distributed both to the wider disabled student population and to our research group.

We found that:

  • Disabled students experience persistent barriers. The most common are time penalties in relation to accessing or processing materials, battles with balancing side-effects of medication or conditions with University systems, chronic levels of fatigue, and different time demands to complete tasks when compared with able peers.
  • Disabled students are required to advocate for themselves multiple times to different parties, which is causing distress and is a persistent time cost.
  • Adjustments, where in place, are mostly thought to be useful, but students struggle with them being solely exam-focused.
  • Services such as lecture capture, mentoring and study skills are recognised as ways to reduce disability-related time costs.

Recommendations include:

  • funding to enable co-developed staff training on diversity and inclusive practice
  • lecture capture provisions as standard where possible
  • increased access to mentoring and study skills, particularly for neurodivergent students
  • investigate ways to speed up access to treatment (medication adjustment times remain an issue and the wider context of provisions is set to become more stretched; better internal infrastructure for mental health support could help translate this process into the Cambridge Time context)