Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Crankstart tops UK aid, yet falls short of Ivy League

With endowments of over £1 billion, both Oxford and Cambridge stand out among peer British universities for their student support packages. Both universities have made vigorous attempts in recent years to subvert the idea that they are exclusively for those born into wealth. Schemes like Crankstart make Oxford one of the most affordable universities in the country.

Looking across the pond, however, the picture changes. Increasingly, students from top private schools are leaving Britain for the Ivy Leagues. Equally, with generous university support, it may be more realistic for middle-income British students to attend Harvard and Yale over the institution an hour away from home. In light of this, Cherwell investigated: how effective are Oxford’s financial support schemes? And how do they compare to Oxford’s international competitors? 

Working and volunteering

As a stipulation for financial support, Crankstart Scholars are “encouraged to complete 25 hours of volunteering work” a year in order to give back either to Oxford or their home community. Oxford bans students from participating in paid work during term time – yet Crankstart Scholars are actively encouraged to participate in term time volunteering. 

A meeting of JCR Access representatives hosted found the volunteering “unfair” and one college Inreach Representative commented: “It makes low income students feel as though they need to do free labour in order to earn their place here. It’s quite demoralising for these students who then have 25 hours less than their peers to revise, write essays, do sports, etc.” 

No clear support is provided for Crankstart students to complete their volunteering. When asked if they provide additional support related to volunteering, a spokesperson for Balliol told Cherwell: “No – we understood it to be covered by the University.” Similarly, St Anne’s stated that they had no specific general or financial support paths for scholars to aid with finding volunteering. 

The introductory handbook states that Crankstart donors “are especially keen that [scholars] encourage school and college leavers to apply to university and promote the benefits of Higher Education.”

The message is reiterated on their website. It includes encouragement for students of lower-income students to complete outreach to lower income background students alongside their degrees. A first-year Crankstart Scholar told Cherwell: “It can feel a bit unfair when scholars have to feel as though they need to ‘earn’ the money they are provided when realistically it is not their responsibility for their lack of privilege.”

While Oxford officially doesn’t allow students to work during the term, some colleges provide opportunities for students to work within college outreach, such as meeting prospective students or running social media. Finding work exclusively during the holidays can be difficult, especially when vacations are often described as “studying away from Oxford.”

Comparison with other universities

Compared to British universities, competitive overseas institutions – especially in America – provide much higher levels of financial support to middle and lower income students. For instance, while a British student with a household income of £32,500 would, factoring in Crankstart, still need to pay £4,150 per year and would not be allowed to work during term, a British student with the same household income at Harvard’s would pay £2,750 per year, and would be able to supplant the entirety of that cost through an on-campus job. 

At other similarly-ranked US universities, like Yale, families earning up to £58,972 per year are expected to pay nothing toward tuition, room, or board, and all students are expected to graduate without loans. However, while these American universities provide scholarships and financial aid packages that cover the cost of tuition, room, and board, they lack an equivalent to the British “maintenance loan”, and students are therefore responsible for costs they incur outside food, tuition, and accommodation. 

Other top UK universities like UCL and Warwick, give minimal extra funding. Warwick offers low-income students a bursary of up to £2000 a year, and both operate a hardship fund. Oxford and Cambridge have significantly higher endowments than other UK universities, compared to the US where the high levels of wealth are more common. 

Student loans

With maintenance loans, English students on Crankstart receive around £14,100 in funding a year, meeting the University estimated yearly living costs of between £12,000 and £17,000. Oxford students on Crankstart are unique in potentially not needing parental financial support with their studies.

The way student loans are provided is not an exact replica of a student’s financial position. Eligibility is decided by one household, ignoring separated parents who both financially contribute and including the income of step-parents or new partners, who may not be financially responsible for the student. 

Some students also face parents refusing to contribute to their education. Student Finance England presumes a parental contribution, however there is no legal obligation for parents to support their children after the age of 18, placing some at a significant disadvantage for accessing higher education. In 2018, the Universities definition of estranged was criticised as narrow, leaving only a few eligible for additional support. With a college survey showing that 15 out of 68 don’t receive family financial support University finance does not extend far enough to  help all. 

Student loans differ between nations within the UK, and even more so internationally. Welsh students all get £12,150, with the amount being loaned or granted shifting based on income. Scottish students studying in Scotland pay no tuition, and all receive a minimum of £8,400. Both Welsh and Scottish students can use their maintenance loans in England. 

International students, on the other hand, are often without access to any government financial support. The University “encourages students to explore options for sourcing funding in their home country”, however, these resources are often not available. This limits the diversity of international applicants, restricting Oxford to those who already come from financially able families, especially given that international fees are nearly triple those of home fees. 

Living costs

A strength of the scholarship is the control it enables scholars to have over their finances. There is no demand to spend the scholarship on University fees or accommodation costs. This is unlike the nearest equivalent at American institutions, where scholarships must be put toward the teaching fees. The money for Crankstart Scholars has no caveat as to how it should be spent. 

A first year Crankstart Scholar told Cherwell: “I think Crankstart has been very beneficial in helping me be able to take part in social activities within Oxford. Though I’m grateful to have financial support, that mainly goes towards essential things (accommodation, bills, food etc) and wouldn’t be able to cover all social aspects of my student life here at Oxford.” 

Colleges also offer further support to students on Crankstart, and other bursaries. St Anne’s College told Cherwell: “In the recent past the JCR have offered subsidised tickets to the College Ball for Crankstart and Oxford Bursaries recipients.”

Some colleges provide additional support on top of Crankstart. Lincoln College, who notably provide the most in bursaries, offer additional financial support to Crankstart Scholars. 

However for some colleges financial support outside of Crankstart is scarce. When asked about “support, financial or otherwise” that the college provides to students on Crankstart, a spokesperson from Balliol College told Cherwell that there is a JCR grant students can apply for. They further said: “If an application for financial assistance is made we will pay careful consideration to low-income students… [and] make them aware of the financial support available…” but did not offer further detail. 

When asked the same question, a spokesperson from St Anne’s College told Cherwell that there is “no specific financial [support].” They also noted that all students can apply for travel grants and hardship grants, which, according to an online report, is for students experiencing  “unexpected financial hardship” they “could not have foreseen.”

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles