A Cherwell investigation has discovered vast discrepancies in the academic and non-academic awards available at different colleges, as well as some surprising criteria for prizes.
Although many colleges, including Pembroke and New, offer no book grant for undergraduates, some are extremely generous.
Christ Church offers £210 for books over the course of a student’s degree, while St John’s currently offer £248 a year for “books, materials, and other items of an academic nature”, including “portable or hand-held computing devices, computer software or memory/hard-disk up-grades”.
Students at other colleges have expressed their dissatisfaction that they do not have access to similar funds. Sam Evans, an English second year at St Hugh’s, commented, “Whilst I appreciate Oxford University has 184 libraries throughout the city, I still feel a bibliophilic yearning to own a copy of every book I ever read and am profoundly disappointed that the college will not financially support my desire to do so.”
However, St Hugh’s JCR President elect, Sara Polakova argued, “We have a phenomenal library with significant financial support as it is , and I think renovations of areas of college are much more urgent than investing in book grants. Unfortunately, we are not in the position of St John’s where we could have both.”
There is also a large disparity between financial support available for travel at different colleges. A number of colleges have considerable funds for both academic and leisure travel.Particularly for classics students, travel abroad is often paid for by generous benefactors. Trinity has a Lingen Fund “for students studying Classics to go abroad to research” and Christ Church has two J.L Field Exhibitions worth £250 for classicists “for the purpose of travel abroad”.
James Norman, a classicist at Brasenose, which gives preference from its travel fund to students doing classics going to the Mediterranean, argued that the system of college grants is fair.“I think college based grants are probably better than University based because I’d imagine the need can be assessed better if the tutors personally know the student, whilst faculty based ones have the greater risk of people just using it for a free holiday.”
However, another classicist disagreed, saying, “I think it would be fairer for stuff like this to go through the faculty to eliminate the vast discrepancies that currently exist in the amount of money and therefore opportunities for exciting and degree-relevant travel between people at richer or poorer colleges. I went on an archaeological trip to Greece in the summer and got £200 from college, but another girl on the same trip, worth around £1000, had the whole thing paid for by her Cambridge college and got £400 spending money!”
St Catz has a wide range of travel grants, which are “primarily for enterprising and interesting travel projects rather than for study.” These include the Wallace Watson Award, which grants up to £2,000 to students “to undertake an expedition or travel of a challenging nature in a mountainous and/or remote region anywhere in the world”.
Elsewhere, Christ Church has a prize of up to £1,500 for travel “for academic or cultural purposes in Europe, Asia, North Africa or South America”. St Anne’s has a total of £12,417 per annum for travel purposes, while St Hilda’s has comparatively smaller funds, with just £4,500 per annum available.One St Hilda’s student told Cherwell, “Although St Hilda’s simply doesn’t have as much money as some other colleges, there are certainly travel, sport and book grants available, as well as some fairly substantial hardship funds, all of which are fairly easy to access.“
Sadly, students at colleges with smaller endowments will have less college funding available to them. Perhaps this means that there will be less financial opportunities available to certain members of the university. However, even if this is the case, funding at Oxford generally is still far better than funding at many other universities.”
Students at Jesus have access to the P.W. Dodd Fund, which is usually worth £250 and allows students to travel, with the condition that the trip is not related to their degree subject. The college website states, “The purpose of the Dodd Fund is to assist undergraduates to benefit from the experience of foreign travel for non-academic purposes during vacations”.
Zo Uffindell, a third year geographer at Jesus, said, “In my first year, I went to Copenhagen for the COP15 conference as part of the Tearfund delegation. Money from the Dodd Fund enabled me to do this without worrying about the cost. I am very grateful to the benefactors who continue to offer financial support to students at Jesus, for all sorts of different activities”
Jesus is one of the most generous colleges to its undergraduates in general, with cultural, sport and travel funds totalling around £30,000 a year. Senior Tutor Dr Alexandra Lumbers commented, “We have a good range of awards because of the generosity of our alumni who have given has funds over the years to put in trusts. How much we give out each term to applicants depends on how many students apply and how well the endowments are doing.”
Notable awards at Jesus include the T.E. Lawrence award worth up to £5,000, for history students doing “research into the Mediaeval History of Western Europe, the Mediterranean or the territories of the Crusades” and the Peter North Fund which can offer up to £1,000 to students who intend to go into legal practice.
Across the board, law degrees tend to be among the most lucrative in terms of prizes. Balliol offers a law essay prize of £300 and the Paton Studentship, to the value of £220 or more, “awarded annually on the result of Law Schools”, while Christ Church have a £100 award to be given to a Jurisprudence student in their penultimate year, £100 for the best performance in Final Honour Schools as well as a £500 scholarship for law students returning to the House for graduate study.
Chemists are also fortunate in the range of awards available. Keble has the The Denis Meakins Prize, worth up to £500 for “the best ‘all round’ performance in Chemistry, taking into account academic achievement and extra-curricular contributions to the College.” Lincoln’s Peter Atkins award is worth £700 for outstanding Chemistry students.
More unusual awards include the Hawkins Scholarships at Christ Church for sons and daughters of the clergy in special financial need. Even more niche are Balliol’s Galpin Scholarships, “for students who are of Dorset descent and have been educated in Dorset”.
Balliol student Sam Rabinowitz spoke in favour of the awards, telling Cherwell, “For too long, those from the north of England have treated their southern counterparts with snobbery and disdain. This discrimination tends to be based on ignorance. Just because the north is higher on a map doesn’t make its inhabitants taller or cleverer. This award will hopefully serve as a beacon to the rest of society, and help drive such misinformation into the sea.”
Current holder of a Galpin Exhibition, Ryan Flanagan, said that although he knew about the award when he applied to Balliol, it did not influence his decision to apply, and explained that in practice the award was much the same as any other Exhibition, since “most of these awards are just nameholders fo the scholars and exhibitioner awards”.
A spokesperson for the University told Cherwell that although some awards may seem to have surprising conditions, “Benefactors do not dictate to the University or colleges what awards are to be given; decisions are always arrived at through a process of discussion so that donations can support areas which the University and its colleges believe can enrich the student experience.”
They also reiterated that, “Whilst it is true that there are differences in awards offered by different colleges the underlying level of support every student at Oxford receives is far higher than almost any other UK university, making an Oxford undergraduate degree excellent value whichever college you study at.”