The Department of Geography's scholarship will commence from the 2021-2022 academic yearBhaskar Vira

The University’s Geography Department has announced that they are launching a new scholarship for black and mixed heritage undergraduate students.

The scholarship will provide support and financial assistance for black British students intending to read for the Geographical Tripos, and is to provide £10,000 per annum for one incoming student in the 2021-2022 academic year.

In an email sent to all members of the Department, Professor Sarah Radcliffe, who has been leading the Department’s decolonising efforts, detailed the reasoning behind the scholarship. This revolved around the fact that “admissions and enrolment data indicate that black and black mixed heritage students are significantly under-represented in undergraduate geography programmes across the UK, and at the University of Cambridge.”

The email continued to stress that the “Department is working proactively to address historic under-representation in the discipline.”

For the 2019-2020 academic year, aside from Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Geography had the lowest acceptance rate for Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) students, with only 7.4% of home students accepted identifying as BME.

Speaking to Varsity, Head of Department Professor Bhaskar Vira and Professor Radcliffe emphasised that the scholarship is one among many efforts to address the issue of under-representation of ethnic minorities in Geography.

The Professors detailed to Varsity that the scholarship has been in the works for “at least over the last twelve months.”

They continued to stress that the Department is “very conscious about widening participation and access issues." They referenced Geography’s early participation in initiatives such as the Sutton Trust Summer Schools.

However, Vira and Radcliffe also highlighted the difficulties with outreach work; pointing out that as this is largely based out of colleges “it has not been that straightforward to think about what else we might be able to do, from a Departmental perspective.”

They acknowledged the Stormzy Scholarships as “an obvious inspiration” and are hopeful that the announcement of the scholarship will be able to “coincide with the UCAS application deadlines and also, coincidentally, the start of Black History Month in the UK.”

When asked whether the timing of the scholarship was in any way prompted by surges in the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer, the Professors answered: “Yes, absolutely —this was a catalysing moment that helped to focus our conversations in the Department. There was a real desire to respond, both personally and collectively.”

The Professors told Varsity that “in line with the Black Lives Matter movement, we [the Geography Department] wanted to collectively consider how we can better combat and counter violence against Black and Minority Ethnic communities within all aspects of our work, but also how we can better represent, foreground and celebrate the contributions of under-represented communities within our Department.”


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The scholarship is not the only outreach and decolonising efforts the Department is engaging with. The Professors outlined to Varsity that “possible avenues and concrete proposals for decolonization” have been “subject to ongoing discussions since 2017 among a working group of undergraduates, postgraduates and staff members of the Geography department.”

The Department is currently focusing its attention on outreach and admissions among both undergraduate and postgraduate students: decolonising the curriculum, course content and research, providing accessible anti-racism resources in the Department, and combating institutional racism in the Department through training.

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