Toope announced the student support initiative in the vice-chancellor annual address this morning in Senate HouseRosie Bradbury

Cambridge Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope has announced today the launch of a campaign by the University to raise at least £500m over the next six years to reform the University’s financial student support system.

The campaign, formally announced in Toope’s annual address in Senate House this morning, will involve the expansion of postgraduate studentships and enhanced financial support for undergraduate students “from home and abroad”, according to the vice-chancellor.

Of the £500m funding target, £300m is expected to be allocated to the University’s expansion of postgraduate studentships reported by Varsity in July – which would provide financial support of living costs to Cambridge’s postgraduate student population.


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Varsity reported earlier this year that the access initiative may also include funding for Cambridge’s poorest students to graduate debt-free, where all tuition and maintenance fees would be covered for students from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds.

Meeting minutes obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request found that students’ eligibility for debt-free education may target those who received free school meals.

As part of the University’s overhaul of the Cambridge Bursary Scheme, it also plans to expand its funding to students in the ‘squeezed middle’ – those who qualify for lower levels of government financial support but who receive little funding from their families and do not receive the full Cambridge bursary grant.

Explained: The University’s planned reforms to the Cambridge Bursary Scheme

The Cambridge Bursary Scheme is the University’s flagship system of financial support for UK undergraduates. It currently provides all undergraduate students who receive a household income of below £42,620 with a “gift” of up to £3,500 per year. Eligible undergraduates receive the grant automatically, regardless of whether they already receive a government loan.

The planned new bursary model will measure students’ household income alongside other methods of means testing, with students automatically receiving money based on a “sliding scale” of need, and would be rolled out across all colleges.

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In his announcement of the £500m funding campaign, Toope said that the University’s goals to raise funds for postgraduate studentships and bursaries for undergraduate students were in an effort to “ensure that the very best students come to Cambridge”.

He added that by providing the expanded financial support for both UK and overseas students, the University will ensure that “students at Cambridge have the best experience possible, and that they are not deterred from participating in the richness that Cambridge has to offer.”

A new regulatory body for universities, the Office for Students, called on Cambridge to undergo a “robust evaluation” of its bursaries system in July on whether its bursaries are an effective means of widening participation in higher education from educationally disadvantaged groups.

The announcement comes amid rising pressures on UK universities to widen access and improve support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Earlier this year, UK Prime Minister Theresa May launched an independent review by the Office for Students into higher education funding, to “[shine] a light on institutions that need to do more to widen access from disadvantaged groups.”


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Toope pointed to the introduction of the scholarship scheme by grime artist Stormzy as evidence of the first strands of the student support initiative having “already materialised”. The Stormzy scholarship is to provide a total of four black students with total funding for an undergraduate Cambridge degree.

Toope also noted that the Cambridge Trust has set aside half a million pounds for the introduction of the Rowan Williams Studentship in 2019, to cover the fees and maintenance costs of both undergraduate and graduate students who “face severe barriers”, such those from areas of instability or conflict zones. The Cambridge Trust currently supports seven such students, five from Syria and two from Palestine.