Students from underrepresented backgrounds who applied and were interviewed for Cambridge but just fell short will be able to refer themselves to be reconsidered.

Up to 100 places to be available under scheme as part of efforts to improve diversity

The University of Cambridge is seeking to increase student diversity by offering disadvantaged candidates who narrowly miss out on a place a second chance to apply after they get their A-level results.

From this summer, students from underrepresented backgrounds who applied and were interviewed for an undergraduate course but just fell short will be able to refer themselves to be reconsidered on results day once they know their grades.

Cambridge will for the first time participate in the Ucas system of adjustment that allows students who have outperformed the terms of the conditional university offer they are holding to refer themselves for consideration by another institution.

Each year more than 14,000 students who apply to Cambridge fail to secure an offer. The university says up to 100 places will be available under the new scheme, which forms one plank of its efforts to widen participation.

Dr Sam Lucy, director of admissions at Cambridge, said: “Students have to apply almost a year before they start their course, and some may be on an upward academic trajectory and not demonstrating their full academic potential at the point of interview.

“Adjustment provides those students who go on to achieve highly with an opportunity to be reconsidered as soon as they have their final results, rather than having to make a reapplication the following year. We hope this will have a positive impact, in enabling us to admit talented students from underrepresented groups who narrowly miss out in the first round.”

Only those who applied and were interviewed during the main application cycle, which begins in October and ends with offers in January, will be eligible; candidates can only apply for the subject they originally applied for, and will have to meet specific widening participation criteria in order to be considered.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust which campaigns for greater social mobility through education, welcomed the move as a step in the right direction. “Closing the stubbornly wide access gap at our best universities is vital so it is good to see Cambridge looking to new solutions to tackle the problem.”

Research has shown however that poor but high-achieving pupils who go on to gain the kind of grades required to get into Oxford or Cambridge either do not apply or have their grades underpredicted. “We want to see a complete move to post-qualification applications where students apply only after they have received their A-level results. This does away with predicted grades and empowers students to make the best possible choices.”

Leading UK universities which are still dominated by white, wealthy students have come under increasing pressure from government to attract young people from hard-to-reach backgrounds where they may be the first in their family to consider university.

Last year Cambridge launched a £500m fundraising campaign to pay for a new “transition programme” to encourage and support applications from talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds who might otherwise not get a place.

The scheme includes a three-week bridging programme plus a transition year before a degree to raise the attainment of disadvantaged students with academic potential. A similar initiative has been adopted by Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall.