A new enhanced bursary scheme is being launched by the University of Cambridge to support undergraduate students facing financial pressures. Over the next ten years, more than £100 million will be awarded to students, across all the Colleges. The additional funding, to help with living costs, will enable students to enjoy the benefits a Cambridge education offers, regardless of their personal financial circumstances. Students will start benefiting from October 2021. 

Robinson was part of a pilot for this initiative and is proud to be part of the new enhanced scheme.

Dr David Woodman, Robinson's Senior Tutor, said:

'We are very grateful for the new bursary scheme, which will bring much-needed additional support to many of our students and allow them to concentrate their efforts on their studies and to make the most of their time in Cambridge.'

The new scheme is being made possible through the generosity of philanthropic donations from alumni and friends of the collegiate University. The Harding Challenge, established by David and Claudia Harding as part of their £100 million gift to Cambridge and St Catharine’s College in February 2019, was designed to underpin this expansion in bursary provision. The University expects 25 – 30% of students will be eligible for the enhanced support (currently it’s around 20%). Once fully rolled out, around 700 students will also qualify for an additional £1,000 because they were eligible for free school meals. 

UK students can apply to the Student Loans Company for a maintenance loan to cover basic living costs. There is widespread take-up of these loans: repayments are linked to future earnings which means they are more like a tax than conventional debt, and they are an invaluable support to making University more affordable for as many students as possible.  However, research conducted by the University suggests many students struggle to meet all their expenses because parents often can’t afford to contribute to the extent that these means-tested loans assume they will. It’s these financial gaps that the new bursary scheme will help to alleviate.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, said: 

“This new enhanced bursary scheme, which wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of donors, will help to ease some of our students' financial worries. The scheme’s launch means far more students will be eligible for support. This is particularly relevant now, at a time when many families’ incomes have been affected adversely by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The launch of the enhanced bursary scheme follows a pilot scheme involving 20 Colleges established and largely funded by Trinity College. Students in receipt of these bursaries said they were able to participate more fully in the social and academic life Cambridge has to offer. The awards also had a positive impact on their mental well-being, reducing the anxieties they had about finances. Colleges also noted that there was a marked reduction in applications for hardship funding in-year.  

The University’s Faculty of Education has conducted research to find out how effective this level of support is for students. This found it contributes substantially to their wellbeing, participation in academic and social activities, and overall student experience. 

Under the new scheme, bursaries of up to £3,500 per year will be given to students from households with an assessed income of up to £62,215, without any application needed. Previously students were given support if the assessed income rose to £42,620. The bursary will be tapered so those at the lower end will receive more. For example, all undergraduates from households with assessed incomes below £25,000 will receive the full amount. Those at the top end will receive £100. The amount they receive is a grant and so is non-repayable. Awards will be further enhanced for students who join the University from local authority care or who are estranged from their families. In addition, the scheme will include a supplementary award of £1,000 per year to all low-income students who qualified for free school meals, contributing to a bursary of £4,500 in each year of their undergraduate studies.

Impact of the Cambridge Bursary Scheme

Cambridge has a record of providing financial support to students in need. During the 2019/20 academic year the Cambridge Bursary Scheme awarded almost £8.5 million to more than 2,700 students. Currently, students whose household income rises to £42,620 per annum receive support but no awards are given above this level. A maximum of £3,500 is awarded to those whose households fall into the lowest income bracket of below £25,000. Additional grants are also distributed by individual Colleges. 

Last year the University also successfully trialled making additional grants to new students, who were eligible for free school meals, with funding coming from the Harding Challenge. Among other benefits, this led to students who were experiencing acute economic disadvantage owing to the Covid-19 pandemic being able to purchase higher quality equipment which is viewed as increasingly necessary to facilitate their studies. 

Case studies: those who have benefited from the Cambridge Bursary Scheme

Annie comes from a very low-income household; including benefits, she, her mother and sister have a residual household income of £14,000 per year. Starting at Cambridge in October 2021, she will qualify for a government maintenance loan of £9,488 per year. In addition to this, she will receive an annual Cambridge Bursary of £4,500 per year, which includes the additional £1000 premium awarded to those who were eligible for Free School Meals. Annie’s mother is not expected to contribute anything towards her maintenance while she is at Cambridge.

Bakari’s parents both work full-time and their joint residual income totals £50,000 per year. Bakari is entitled to a government maintenance loan of £6,091, and his parents are expected to contribute £3,396 each year, which they will struggle to do, since Bakari already has a sibling at University and another planning to apply. Under the new Cambridge Bursary Scheme, Bakari will be entitled to an annual Cambridge Bursary of £1,217, which will help him to bridge the gap and enable him to enjoy more of what Cambridge has to offer.

Chiman was taken into foster care as a teenager, and so is treated by student finance as having no financial supporters. Starting at Cambridge in October 2021, he will qualify for a government maintenance loan of £9,488 per year. In addition to this, he will receive an annual Cambridge Bursary of £6,600 per year, which includes the additional £1,000 premium awarded to those who were eligible for Free School Meals, and the enhanced bursary of £2,100 for independent students, which recognises the fact that he needs to be supported financially all year round, as there is no family home to return to.