'Students from Lucy Cavendish College were the least likely to have their Hardship Fund application approved'louis ashworth for varsity

Students from colleges with large state school intakes are less likely to receive support from the University’s Hardship Fund, a Varsity investigation has found.

Application success rates at colleges such as Lucy Cavendish, Pembroke, Homerton, and Fitzwilliam are significantly lower than at colleges where the privately educated feature more strongly in the student body. The Hardship Fund is a university-level scheme under which students can apply for up to £3,500 to address “unforeseen financial difficulties.”

Varsity’s findings come from a series of Freedom of Information requests made to the University, and cover the applications made for the fund in the 2022/23 academic year.

Students from Lucy Cavendish College were the least likely to have their Hardship Fund application approved, the investigation has found. The success rate for students from this College stood at 39%. Lucy Cavendish is also the College with the highest proportion of state school students in its 2022/23 intake, at 95%.

Similarly, students from Pembroke College faced an application success rate of 50%, with 77% of the College’s enrollment last year coming from state-educated backgrounds. Students from Homerton (79% state school intake), Selwyn (80%), and Fitzwilliam (84%) all faced a success rate of below 60%.

By comparison, students from both Emmanuel and Trinity were 100% successful in their applications, with these Colleges enrolling 66% and 58% state school students last year, respectively. Wolfson College had a 50% state-educated intake in 2022/23, and their students notched an application success rate of 88%.

“I’ve only heard negative things about the hardship fund here,” Fitzwilliam College’s JCR Class Act Officer, Milosz Kowalski, told Varsity. Characterising the fund as “overly bureaucratic,” Kowalski said that he advises students to only apply as a last resort.

Describing Fitzwilliam as “generally very supportive of its students financially,” Kowalski feels that the College suffers from this reputation when its students go to the University for support.

Kowalski said: “this creates a situation in which applicant students from wealthier Colleges are perceived as those in greater need.” He continued: “this [perception] may well trickle up to the Hardship application board, who believe that students from traditionally ‘access’-oriented Colleges are more likely to be taken care of by their respective Colleges.”

“Of course, this situation is problematic in that it shifts responsibility away from wealthier old Colleges and towards the less wealthy ‘access’ Colleges,” Kowalski concluded.

Overall, students at the Colleges with a state school intake of over 70% measured an average 65.5% success rate in applying for the fund. Whereas, students from the colleges with a state-educated intake below 70% met a 75.1% success rate. Therefore, students from colleges with a lower state school intake were on average almost 10% more likely to have their Hardship Fund request approved.


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The gap widens at the extremes, with students from Lucy Cavendish 61% less likely to receive financial aid than those at Trinity or Emmanuel.

These calculations were made using the 27 Colleges for which Varsity received a full set of data from the University. Overall, £255,842 was awarded to students in Hardship Funding in the 2022/23 academic year, as of the 23rd of August.

A spokesperson for Fitzwilliam College said: “as is the case with all Cambridge Colleges, Fitzwilliam provides targeted bursary support to students who are experiencing financial hardship. Where appropriate, students are supported by the College in an additional application to University Hardship Funding. Fitzwilliam is not aware of any University policy to contextualise applications against an individual College’s proportion of UK state school students.”

A University spokesperson said: “The University Hardship Fund does not screen by College or prioritise one over another. It responds to requests on demand. In submitting an application, individual students need to have the support of their College tutor and declare whether they are in receipt of other financial assistance (this may include separate hardship funds provided by their College). The University Hardship Fund doesn’t know whether an applicant is state or privately educated. It makes awards on the basis of individual need, and treats each application fairly.”

Homerton and Selwyn Colleges were contacted for comment.