Cherwell investigations has found that the amount awarded to students who have done well academically in their first year varies substantially from college to college. 

Jesus College is the most generous, with students who have achieved a first in Prelims receiving a scholarship worth £330 per year, as well as two free formal halls a week and a scholar’s gown. Scholarships are renewed annually and subject to the student continuing to succeed academically. 

At the other end of the spectrum, St Peter’s College gives the least, with high-scoring students only receiving £100 and priority on the housing ballot. 

Colleges choose to reward success differently, with some focusing on non-monetary prizes such as free meals, book tokens, scholars gowns, free vacation residence and priority on the room ballot in addition to lump sums.

There is no strict correlation between a college’s endowment and the amount it gives in scholarships. However, the two outlying in terms of rewards appear to go against this: St Peter’s, with the smallest scholarships, also has the smallest endowment; and St John’s, the richest of the colleges, is in the higher bracket for academic rewards, giving £300 to scholars annually. 

Similarly, there is no connection between the extent to which colleges incentivise academic success and their actual results as measured by the Norrington Table. Magdalen College, which came top of the Norrington Table in the 2011/2012 academic year, awards the mean scholarship amount of £200. Pembroke, which came bottom of the table, awards scholars the second highest amount – £300 per year.

David Messling, OUSU Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs, criticised the non-monetary benefits available to students at certain colleges. “It’s great to acknowledge student achievement, not just academically, but also in extracurricular fields,” he said. “At the same time, there’s a big difference between celebrating student success with a special dinner, and denying a student the basic chance to live in college.”

Messling continued, “Accommodation and daily food are provided to students as students, not on the basis of academic achievement during their studies. If colleges want to improve their students’ academic performance at Prelims, there are lots of good options (including better welfare support or exam study skills sessions) without too much additional carrot and stick treatment. It’s good to reward academic performance, but exams are stressful enough without your accommodation riding on them too.”

One second year student, Alexis Dale, maintained that, “The incentive for Oxford students does not need to be financial. We know that life is cut-throat and that those who are successful are rewarded, but this does
nothing but emphasise the contrasting attitudes and inequalities of the colleges. Who’s to say a first from a less wealthy college in a subject that’s relatively hard to get a first in is worth less than a first in a subject which is comparatively easier to get one in from a wealthier college? First year’s a challenge as it is without reinforcing the elitism that Oxford is notorious for.”

A University spokesperson commented, “It’s important to note that colleges take many different approaches to supporting and recognising student achievement – looking at scholarships and prizes in isolation does not give a useful picture of the ways in which students are encouraged and incentivised across the collegiate university. Some colleges may offer prizes, while others offer things like book grants or travel scholarships – these are all useful ways of motivating and supporting student achievements.”