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St John’s Studentships

We launched the Studentships scheme in response to the final demise of the means-tested Government Maintenance Grant in 2016 and the increasing number of UK students being lured abroad by fantastic financial support packages.

This means-tested bursary for undergraduates instantly trebled the amount of financial support received by students from households with incomes below £25k per annum. Funded entirely by donations, the scheme has gone from strength to strength, and we have even bigger ambitions for the future.

Most Johnians who left College in previous decades did so with little or no debt. This is because those from less well-off backgrounds enjoyed the benefits of a full maintenance grant and no tuition fees.

The demise of maintenance grants in 2016 meant that the cost of a three-year degree rose to be in excess of £50,000 for all home students, some of whom were required to take on debt that was several times their family’s annual income in order to attend St John’s. This became a considerable barrier to them applying, and even if they did apply and win a place, the debt detrimentally affected their university experience in a number of ways, creating anxiety and discouraging them from participating in sports or societies. These students also felt pressured to return home during the vacations to minimise costs instead of pursuing valuable work experience, research and learning opportunities like many of their peers.

This debt burden began to have an impact on Cambridge’s ability to attract top applicants in its capacity as one of the world’s best universities, competing on a global stage. Since the introduction of the £9,000-a-year tuition fees in 2012, an increasing number of bright UK students were opting to leave the UK for their university education, with foreign universities offering far more generous financial packages than any available in the UK.

In 2016, while ‘full-price’ study at Cambridge was half the cost of somewhere like Harvard, the bursaries available at the US institution meant it was a much more attractive option for less wealthy UK students (and free of cost to those from families with incomes of less than £40,000 per year).

The University of Cambridge did have a centrally run bursary scheme, the Cambridge Bursary, which provided a £3,500 non-repayable grant to the poorest students. However, this was dwarfed by the £18,000 per annum costs they faced.

St John’s therefore decided to launch an ambitious fundraising campaign to create its own means-tested support scheme to plug the gap…

In Michaelmas 2016, the first cohort of Home fee freshers with household incomes of less than £25k per annum entered the Studentships scheme. St John’s awarded them a £6,070* per annum bursary for the duration of their course. This, taken with the central Cambridge Bursary (£3,500 per annum) meant that all of their maintenance costs were covered and they only needed a loan for their tuition fees.

In Michaelmas term 2018, thanks to a generous anonymous donation, the scheme was extended on a sliding-scale basis to cover students from households with incomes of £25,000–45,000 per annum.

The introduction of Studentships has strengthened our outreach message. In addition to addressing age-old misconceptions about Cambridge, we are now able to show potential applicants that we understand the issues they face and are addressing them directly.

The scheme is funded entirely by current-use donations from Johnians and other supporters. With eligible undergraduates in all four year groups now benefiting from the scheme, the running cost is now at £1 million per annum.

*This is the first-year rate for the 2016 cohort. Each year the value of the Studentship is calculated based on the University’s annual maintenance rate, less the value of the Cambridge Bursary, to ensure that it always covers all maintenance costs. The Studentship rate for the 2020/21 academic year is £7,380.

To date, 212 undergraduates have received support from the Studentships scheme.

Where they are from

What they study

Natural Sciences30
Medicine 28
Human, Social and Political Sciences22
Engineering (inc. Chemical Engineering)16
Modern and Medieval Languages13
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies4
Computer Science4
Psychological and Behavioural Sciences4
History and Politics2
Veterinary Medicine2
Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic1
History of Art1
Land Economy1

Their household incomes

The Studentship scheme was what persuaded me to apply to St John’s, and I will forever be proud and honoured to be a recipient.

Jasper, 2019 (HSPS)
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To date, the Studentships scheme has been funded hand-to-mouth by annual, immediate-use donations, as opposed to by an endowed fund (monies that are invested by College, with only the returns spent).

This was necessary to launch the scheme in a timely manner in 2016, but with an annual running cost of £1 million it is not sustainable. We must begin to build an endowed fund from which to fund the St John’s Studentships in perpetuity.

The long-term ambition is to increase both the generosity and the reach of the scheme, and to be the first UK higher education institution to offer completely free places to the poorest UK students. This will only be possible with your support.


Why does St John’s need to fundraise for this project? Read more about College finances.