Trinity has given £13,840 in prizes through these fundsLouis Ashworth for Varsity

Secretive funds at Trinity college have shelled out tens of thousands of pounds over the last few years to students from elite schools like Westminster and St Paul’s, Varsity can reveal.

Trinity, Cambridge’s richest college, has given £13,840 in prizes and £3436 in grants since 2018 through these types of funds. This means that a total of £17,276 has been awarded exclusively to students from specific private schools.

Documents seen by Varsity show that past donations from wealthy alumni, including some from as far back as the 17th century, were granted to the college on the condition that funds were only given to certain students.

One such fund from 1696 is still being used to give large financial awards to students educated at St Paul’s, a London-based private school with annual tuition fees of over £29k, which received 22 offers to study at Cambridge in the 2022 cohort. Another from 1690 is dedicated to students from Westminster, which charges £37k a year.

A more recent donation from the 1930s has even more specific conditions, giving preference to Norfolk-born Paulines studying Classics.

On top of financially rewarding academic success, Varsity has found that the exclusive funds are also used to fund hardship and travel for privately-educated students.

The funds include a provision stating that any Tutor can request grants for hardship, travel, or research on behalf of members primarily intended to benefit from these special funds. The Council has the discretion to charge such grants to the respective special fund.

These funds, typically established through donations from former alumni, are generally bound by the specific wishes of the benefactors, restricting the college from allocating the funds to anyone else, with one fund reaching an investment value of £16,068,580.

In some cases, however, funds are open to redistribution. After addressing specific obligations, surplus income from the fund may be redirected to the Student Support Fund.

Trinity also has a longstanding association with Westminster, one of the schools, since its reestablishment in 1650.

Data acquired via Freedom of Information requests reveals that Trinity College admitted 22 students from the school within a single year, marking the most substantial intake by any Oxbridge college for a specific school over the past three years. The college’s Master also serves as an automatic governor of the school.

The funds extend beyond Westminster and St Paul’s, however, with college statutes referring to “awards to students educated at certain schools”. These encompass private institutions like the Perse School for Boys and Girls as well as state schools such as Dallam School, Milnthorpe, and Thomas Alleyne School, Stevenage.

List of schools: Trinity

St Paul’s School, London (The Perry Fund)

St Paul’s Girls’ School, London (The Perry Fund)

Queen Mary’s College, Basingstoke

Hurstpierpoint College

Shrewsbury School (The Podmore Fund)

Westminster School (The Samwaies Fund)

Any of the schools on the Woodard Foundation: Lancing College; Hurstpierpoint College; Ardingly College; Bloxham School; Denstone College; Ellesmere College; Worksop College; King’s College, Taunton; Granville College, Bideford; Causton College and King’s School, Tynemouth.

Thomas Alleyne School, Stevenage

Alleyne’s High School, Stone

Hitchin Boys’ School

King Edward VII High School, King’s Lynn

The King’s School, Grantham

The Perse School for Boys

Click to show

Data seen by Varsity can confirm a comprehensive financial history of Trinity’s elitist funds.

The Philpott Exhibition (Woodard Schools) holds the highest investment value among the funds, reaching £2,884,087 as of June 2023. On the contrary, The Samwaies Fund (Westminster) maintains the lowest value at £89,897.

In the last academic year, the Samwaies Fund awarded £2,160 in prizes. The Perry Fund (St Paul’s) also allocated £1,200 in prizes, as well as £1,950 in grants. Although the McGill Bequest (for Norfolk-born Classicists from St Paul’s) has not granted any prizes since 2019-2020, it notably contributed around £13,078 to the Student Support Fund in the previous academic year.

Further to the sum of £17,276, the Philpott Exhibition distributed a modest sum of £240 in prizes during the last academic year to both private and state-funded schools. This stands in stark contrast to the £2,150 in prizes it paid out in 2020-2021.

Some prizes at John’s, Cambridge’s second richest college, also remain funded by historic donations to the College from individuals or foundations which cover the cost of a prize for certain students who are awarded first class results. The College does confer prizes ranging from £400 to £500 to every scholar (students achieving a first) regardless of their background.

Some of these funds leak into College-wide grants, meaning funds to be used for general educational purposes are made with money from these elite schools, Varsity has also found.

One student who attended a state comprehensive school received two prizes in their first year for a high tripos ranking within first class (£600) and a subsequent prize in their second year for another first (£400).

The student told Varsity: “Being from a working-class background, I kind of treasure any opportunity to get a little extra cash during the academic year, so this was a nice boost for Michaelmas. “

However, when informed that some prizes are funded by elite schools, they labelled it as “disheartening to hear”.

“Having the college award it from their own funds meant it felt like the school background didn’t matter anymore. There’s a lot of inequality amongst the student body because of background, but I at least thought this was one of the things equalised amongst us - I guess not.”

A spokesperson for St John’s College said: “St John’s College does not offer any grants, funds or scholarships solely or exclusively for students who attended independent schools. The same prizes are awarded to all students at St John’s who achieve first class, or equivalent, results.”


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Trinity said that it is “committed to enabling and welcoming students with the potential to do well at Cambridge regardless of financial background. It provides a range of support to that end, including the Trinity Maintenance Grant, which provides £4,455 per year to each eligible student for the duration of their studies at Cambridge.

“In the current academic year, 169 students are in receipt of the Trinity Maintenance Grant. By comparison, in 2023, a total of £6,680 was shared between 33 students via historical funds – representing less than 1% of spending on bursaries at the College for students with home-fee status”.