Cambridge college launches UK’s first full scholarship to rival top US universities

·3-min read
St John's College is where Prince William, Duke of Cambridge studied Agricultural Management - Mark Cuthbert/UK Press
St John's College is where Prince William, Duke of Cambridge studied Agricultural Management - Mark Cuthbert/UK Press

A Cambridge University college has launched the UK's first full scholarship for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to rival similar opportunities granted by “top flight” Ivy League universities.

Under the new scheme by St John’s College, students will have all their tuition fees, accommodation costs, and other day-to-day living expenses paid for by the university.

The Free Places financial support package will cover 40 undergraduates at a time, with eligible students able to access more than £17,000 of support for every academic year.

While universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton offer grants covering 100 per cent of a student’s tuition fees and living costs, this is not the case in the UK.

All qualifying students who are offered a place at St John’s will automatically receive the grants from the college from the academic year 2023-24.

Officials have said the funds will not need to be paid back, allowing students to graduate debt-free.

The “unprecedented programme” would cover the £9,250 annual tuition fees for all qualifying undergraduates, St John’s College said.

In addition, it will fund rent and maintenance costs, making it the most “generous” student finance support in the country.

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

Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s, said many academically bright pupils from underprivileged backgrounds were shying away from applying to Cambridge over fears they would be mired in debt post graduation.

Ms Hancock, herself a former undergraduate from St John’s and the first in her family to go to university, told The Telegraph: “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 – top flight Ivy League universities in the US – those institutions will offer you a full, non-repayable bursary so you can take up the place.

“St John’s wants to offer these UK students that same debt-free opportunity so they have the choice to realise their academic potential here in Cambridge.”

“It is still true that high-potential pupils from low-income families, and young people leaving care, are deciding against university because of the prospect of significant debt.

“They don’t want to be a burden to their family. They worry about their future employability, and how they’ll ever be free of an unimaginable financial millstone from attending university.”

Funding for the scholarship programme was secured through an anonymous £14 million donation to the College’s Free Places fundraising campaign.

St John’s College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII.

In line with Lady Beaufort’s 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.

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.

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