Cambridge offers £50,000 grants to disadvantaged students

Eligible students will receive £17,000 a year for tuition fees and living costs

New Court at St John's College at Cambridge University. Courtesy of St John's College
New Court at St John's College at Cambridge University. Courtesy of St John's College

A University of Cambridge college will offer the country’s most generous grant scheme to attract the most talented youths and stop them leaving the UK for Ivy League universities in the US.

St John’s College will offer £50,000 ($70,738) a student for up to 40 undergraduates from lower-income backgrounds so they can graduate free of debt.

Those who qualify must come from families whose household income is less than £16,200 a year.

The scheme will fully fund tuition fees and living costs at university, and the college hopes to offer it indefinitely.

Scholarships from the grime star Stormzy offer a similar amount, but only for two students a year at Cambridge.

St John’s is thought to be the second wealthiest Cambridge college, with assets of about £780 million, and it hopes the scheme will be backed by philanthropists to ensure it continues after it is launched in 2023.

Its finances are much lower than those of leading US universities, which are luring talented British applicants from underprivileged backgrounds.

Harvard University has an endowment of about $40 billion and even families with incomes of £150,000 can qualify for scholarships, while less affluent students receive packages that cover flights, books, rent and tuition.

“If you’re a talented 18-year-old from a low-income family in the UK and you win an undergraduate place at, say, Harvard or Yale ... those institutions will offer you a full, non-repayable bursary so you can take up the place," said Heather Hancock, the master of St John’s.

"St John’s wants to offer these UK students that same debt-free opportunity.”

It will also increase the number of students from the north of England.

St John’s was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, who wanted to ensure that it recruited scholars and teaching fellows from England’s northern-most counties, the college said.

“In line with her wishes, between 1511 and 1689 exactly 50 per cent of student admissions to St John’s were from what were then considered to be the northern counties of the country," a Cambridge spokeswoman said.

"That figure has fallen over the years to around 15 per cent of UK undergraduate admissions today, reflecting a wider pattern across leading universities outside the north.”

Eligible students can access more than £17,000 of financial support for every academic year at Cambridge.

Each qualifying student will receive about £51,000 of support in total, based on an undergraduate enrolled on a three-year degree course.

“For more than 500 years, John’s College has had an unwavering commitment to provide financial support for students in need," Ms Hancock said.

"We are determined to sustain this legacy.”

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Updated: May 26, 2021 09:35 PM

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