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Supporting College Teaching

Small group teaching forms the foundation of Cambridge’s academic excellence. Supervisions bring together students in groups of up to three with a Supervisor who is a specialist in the field. They not only improve students’ detailed knowledge of subjects on which they are also lectured, but develop and hone their skills of enquiry, investigation, argument and presentation, both orally and in writing. The College bears the cost of employing supervisors, although fees go to the central University and a very small portion of these reach the College. In 2016/17 our donors supported eight and a quarter College Teaching Officers, who provided small group teaching in subjects including Economics, English and Law.

Economics is a subject that is particularly attractive to applicants from non-traditional backgrounds in terms of university entrance. This is because a professional dimension can be very important to first-generation applicants to higher education and Cambridge, and to applicants from schools with little experience of encouraging their pupils to apply to Cambridge - not least in terms of justifying the significant cost of that higher education.

College teaching in Economics throughout the Cambridge Collegiate system is overwhelmingly provided by CTOs and the possibility of making a less expensive Economics UTO appointment to a College is lower than in many subjects because of the size of the Faculty.

At present the post of Fellow and Director of Studies in Economics is part-funded by a group of alumni who came together as “shareholders” to help to fund the Economics teaching at the College. This allowed Robinson to begin admitting students to read Economics once again, having been forced to drop admissions in the subject for one year whilst funding was being raised.

Donor support has been essential in helping Robinson not only to continue, but to build upon a strong Economics teaching programme, so that it is a thriving subject at Robinson today. The College has limited funds in place for future years and is seeking additional donations in order to support the post of Director of Studies and Fellow in Economics in the long-term.


Over the College's first 20 years, it became clear that Robinson was well placed to become a centre of musical, as well as academic, excellence. Not only had the Founder, Sir David Robinson, provided the College with ample space for music performance and practice, and also with a Chapel well suited for recitals and concerts equipped with a fine Frobenius organ, but the College had subsequently acquired a Steinway piano and a Rubio harpsichord. In any given year between 25% and 30% of the undergraduate intake have been talented musicians, even though only a very small number were reading Music for their degrees.

Those few students who were admitted to read Music in the early days were well-cared for by an external Director of Studies, but the College lacked a resident Fellow with close connections to the Music Faculty to provide continuity and planned development for the community of undergraduates reading Music and musicians reading other subjects. As a result, many of Robinson's talented musicians were looking to other colleges with a more formalised musical life for the opportunity to develop their skills to the full.

To address this problem, Robinson College sought and secured initial funding to appoint a resident Fellow and Director of Studies in Music. An excellent appointment was made in the outstanding young composer, Dr Jeremy Thurlow.

The aims of the appointment of a resident Fellow and Director of Studies in Music were to:

  • attract a larger number of applications from highly qualified candidates to read Music at Robinson;
  • increase the size of the body of undergraduates reading Music in order to create a "critical mass" which assists them all in their studies;
  • foster an active musical life in College, pursued to a high level of skill and invention, in which those reading music and talented musicians reading other subjects can reach their full potential.

These aims have been clearly achieved and the College is keen to maintain this development in the musical life of the community, both academically and recreationally. Robinson's choir tours annually, both abroad and in the UK, and has been broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 4; outstanding professional musicians such as Aisha Orazbayeva and Peter Sheppard Skaerved perform at College alongside our own students and together and independently they draw in outside audiences from the local area, the region and nationally; the number and quality of applications to read Music at Robinson has substantially increased.  Several of the students have gone on to high-level professional careers in music, playing in leading orchestras such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Philharmonia, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and singing in professional cathedral choirs.  There have been numerous Firsts among the music students, and also there are regularly postgraduates at the college studying music at Masters and Doctoral level.   

Dr Thurlow's presence has not only contributed to academic excellence in Music at Robinson, but also galvanised and directed the music-making of Robinsonians, providing energy and achievements that have enriched the musical community and strengthened its sense of identity. As a composer he has written for a wide range of outstanding ensembles and soloists including the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, the Aronowitz Ensemble, Endymion, Sequenza (New York), Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Matthew Schellhorn, Rolf Hind, Krysia Osostowizc, Aisha Orazbayeva, Duo Concertante, the BBC Singers and the BBC Philharmonic. His video-opera A Sudden Cartography of Song won the George Butterworth Award.

As a musicologist he works on twentieth-century French music, especially post-war figures; his monograph Henri Dutilleux et la musique des songes is published by Millénaire III and he has written various chapters and articles on Messiaen and Dutilleux, as well as writing and broadcasting programmes on Radio 3 on these and other composers.  He teaches a wide range of courses including analysis, free composition, tonal composition, 'H&C', and various 19th and 20th-century history courses and dissertation topics, and gives the Music Faculty lectures on the analysis of twentieth-century music. He also runs the visiting speakers and workshop programme for the MPhil in Musical Composition. He is also active as a pianist, particularly in chamber music.

The College has funds in place for this post for a limited period of time and is seeking additional donations in order to support the post of Director of Studies and Fellow in Music in the long-term.


English at Robinson is thriving: students come here because they are passionate about literature. This passion shows itself not only in their rigorous approach to their academic work – our students consistently perform extremely well in the University Tripos examinations – but also in the various extra-curricular activities in which they are engaged, from dramatic production (Robinson boasts the best college auditorium in the university, as well as the only outdoor theatre) to poetry recitals.

We are committed to nurturing the academic development of our students – which is a far broader, far more important thing than mere examination tutoring. In addition to the university-wide lectures in English that are open to everyone from all colleges, our students are taught several times per week in groups of up to four people (with much work conducted in pairs, and all dissertation and portfolio work one-to-one). In this close ‘supervision’ system it is possible for teachers to be highly responsive to the particular needs of the individual. Students are encouraged not only in what they learn, but in how to learn. Detailed feedback on weekly essays helps students to write (and think) with greater clarity; the opportunity for discussion allows them to develop their ideas and to take intellectual risks in an environment where they feel comfortable and supported.



Law at Robinson is led by Director of Studies and Fellow, Dr Brian Sloan, who specialises in Family Law and also teaches in Land Law and Equity. Students of Law at Robinson are extremely fortunate to also be supported and taught by Professor Christopher Forsyth; the Warden (Head of College), Professor David Yates, who has been an academic lawyer at Bristol, Essex and Cambridge Universities and also worked in private practice as a partner, and later Managing Partner, at the law firm, Baker & McKenzie; and a College Teaching Associate.

Robinson has a reputation for producing students who attain very good marks in Law and show marked year-on-year improvement in their examination results. This is due to the high quality of teaching, provision of a constantly updated College law library and the College's Law Revision Week, unique amongst Cambridge colleges.

We are fortunate at Robinson to have a University Teaching Officer, Professor Christopher Forsyth and to be able to draw upon the experience and expertise of our Warden, Professor David Yates. In addition, Robinson usually requires the services of two CTOs, one of whom serves as Director of Studies (DoS), or a CTO and a College Teaching Associate. In Law, as in most subjects, the DoS is responsible for all aspects of a student's academic life; he or she advises students, organises teaching, monitors progress, and ensures all appropriate support is available.

The typical law undergraduate will, during the course of his or her career through Parts 1A, 1B and II of the Law Tripos, complete 14 subjects (4 in the first year and 5 in each subsequent year). The four first year subjects are compulsory and in each of the subsequent years two further subjects are compulsory, therefore, teaching provision is vital in those subjects. In addition to this in the second and third year undergraduates have a choice of subject and in a typical year there are some 20 or 21 subjects overall (depending upon individual student choices) in which supervision is required.

The requirements for teaching provision should also be seen in the context of the Law Tripos as a whole. Law is a subject that changes constantly. This has two implications in particular for the way in which it is taught. Firstly, it inevitably adds an additional dimension to teaching preparation; the subject matter of a supervision can sometimes change day-to-day and almost certainly will change from year to year. Secondly, in drafting the content of the Tripos courses, recent legislation and case law is simply added to the existing content and thus the overall volume of the courses increases exponentially. This leads to a large workload for students and supervisors alike and means that students need a particularly high level of support and guidance in structuring and approaching their preparation for supervisions and exams. Practically, this translates into a frequent need for additional teaching material such as handouts, detailed comments on written work for supervisions and often, extra teaching or advice sessions.

To meet the needs of our Law students, Robinson usually requires the services of two CTOs or a CTO and a College Teaching Associate in addition to its long-standing UTO appointment. The College has funds in place for the present College teaching posts for a limited period of time and is seeking additional donations in order to secure the posts in the long-term.