The referendum at Fitz saw a 59% turnoutVivienne Hopley-Jones

Students at Fitzwilliam College voted on Monday night to scrap the Scholars’ Housing Ballot, with 64.94% of respondents voting in support of the proposal, after reaching a voter turnout of 59%.

This result will now be taken to higher levels of the College in the hopes of official implementation.

Under the current system, Fitz students who achieve first class honours in their end-of-year examinations get to select their rooms (‘ballot’) first, with their names drawn up randomly. The College recently introduced a group balloting system for those who want to ballot with friends: if scholars wish to do this, they aren’t allowed to go in the Scholars’ Ballot.

Ellie Brain, the JCR President at Fitz, told Varsity that she is “delighted” with the results of the ballot. She stated that “financial rewards and fancy dinners do not affect the students who do not achieve a first”, but the Scholars’ Ballot “directly impacts all of us”.

“To me, given first-year grades are by no means a reflection of intelligence nor ‘hard work’, it is unfair to punish those who do not achieve the grade”.

Brain added that although she is “very happy with a 59% turnout”, stating that the ballot is clearly something students care about, “the result was decisive but not unanimous”.

“I feel for the students who strongly wanted to keep the ballot”, she added.

Dr Paul Chirico, Senior Tutor of Fitzwilliam College, told Varsity that the College is “always very interested to hear the views of undergraduates”. He continued: “Ultimately, responsibility for the structuring of room allocation rests within the college”, adding that they will take student views “fully into account” when they “consider” making changes to the process at their relevant committees during May.

Until recent years, academic room ballots were prevalent in Cambridge, but colleges have more recently been moving to update their procedures concerning room allocation. The most recent college to opt out of the system was St Catharine’s in 2017, whose governing body decided to change the College’s procedures following the results of a student referendum where 64% of participants supported the abolishment of their Scholars’ Ballot.

The seven colleges that currently have some form of academic room ballot alongside Fitzwilliam College are Christ’s College, Pembroke College, Trinity College, Peterhouse, St John’s College, Gonville & Caius College and Corpus Christi College.

A Varsity article last term analysed the effectiveness of such room ballots as academic incentives at the different colleges. It found that the four colleges which topped the 2018 Tompkins Table were among the colleges which used academic room ballots - Christ’s, Pembroke, Trinity and Peterhouse respectively. Fitz ranked the lowest out of these colleges, at 19th. The college also had the lowest average ranking (20.5) among the colleges with academic ballots over the last 10 years.


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Conversely, the article found that some colleges which do not use academic room ballots consistently place highly. Emmanuel College, for example, had the second-best average of 3.9 over the last 5 years, with Pembroke, placing 4th, followed by Churchill’s average of 6.2.

Brain cautioned that Fitz’s student referendum does not mean the college is “absolutely scrapping” the ballot. "This is a mandate for me and the JCR to take this into various Committees to discuss the real possibility of finally scrapping the Ballot. Lots of meetings in relation to this are taking place this term, which is when I'll be able to report back to students as to what is going on".

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