REVEALED: Colleges EXTORTIONATE funding for a First
“It suggests that ‘students who achieve a first are deserving of a more comfortable life.'”
Unsurprisingly, Trinity spent the most.
Each year colleges dish out cash to those who get firsts. Financial grants, fancy dinners and even preferential room balloting happen at some colleges. But just how much is your college willing to spend if you get a first?
In perhaps the least exciting discovery of 2017, Trinity spends the most in terms of financial grants, prizes, scholarships for people who get Firsts. A huge £114,178 was spent on those in First, second or third year who got a First in Tripos, with John’s taking second place with £73,126.
Naturally, it is to be expected that the bigger the college the bigger the expenditure, yet some of these figures are incomparable. Bad luck to St Edmunds students, with only £3000 spent.
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Clearly, there is significant disparity amongst the spending of different colleges according to who get firsts.
Some of the most lavish spending came from Scholars feasts. By far the priciest dining for schoalrs was John’s – £12,200 was spent on celebrations. Most colleges spent just over half of this, with exceptions of Churchill and St Catz whose dinners, whilst being celebrations for other parts of college life such as St Catharines Day, admitted exclusively scholars of the college and not the other undergraduate body.
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But for some colleges, preferential treatment for people get firsts does not just stop at feasts and finances. At several colleges, getting a first puts you in a preferential room ballot, or even in some circumstances an entirely separate ‘scholars ballot’. Fitzwilliam, Christ’s, Trinity and Corpus, for example, all have systems whereby academic scholars get separate ballots or are placed first in the ballot to choose some of the best rooms in college.
The majority of other colleges did not offer preferential treatment, with the exception of Peterhouse whose system also takes into account ‘points’ for doing activities in college and around Cambridge (being on the college JCR, playing sports matches, important positions within different societies), as well as academic merit.
In some circumstances, it extends further beyond the room ballot, with some colleges such as Magdalene, Christ’s and Corpus Christi offering part of the scholarship grant in the form of money off college bills.
Yet these figures raise significant questions about the priorities of colleges and the impact that they can have on mental health and the value of students. The Tab spoke to Keir Murison, who, on behalf of the Student Minds Cambridge Committee, raised concerns about these damaging practices.
“Funding of scholars’ prizes and dinners raises questions of colleges’ priorities, and the messages that they are sending to their own students, prospective students and the wider world.” He argued. “Colleges have the ability to create a rewarding and supportive atmosphere, but this practice may threaten it. Student Minds Cambridge believes that students who get firsts should be congratulated, and prizes can naturally provide a boost or incentive. However, for those left out, the practice of publicly delineating between students by rewarding academic performance with material privileges can often reinforce feelings of anxiety, or inadequacy. As one student put it, it suggests that ‘students who achieve a first are deserving of a more comfortable life.”
“Especially given that the fine margins between grade boundaries and exam-related stress can arbitrarily deprive otherwise excellent students of their deserved results, we would urge Colleges to consult their own members and re-evaluate these practices. University is about far more than just the grade at the end of the year, but the obsessive focus upon grades is drowning out this message. Instead, Colleges should have a responsibly to invest in student support in areas of access and welfare.”
“Underfunding of welfare programs, counselling services or upgrading faculties is letting students down and stopping them fulfilling their potential. With large gaps between the funding required and that received, along with the vast disparities between colleges it is extraordinary that money can be set aside for these prizes. The vast majority of Cambridge students already aim for top marks. Supporting these efforts by providing adequate welfare will help all students, not just the ones at the top end of their class, achieve this goal.”
Of course, this issue reaches well beyond extra funding for those who get a First. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Tab that she was labelled “a huge disappointment” by her DOS for missing a First by one mark.
But what is clear is that with colleges spending upwards of £50,000 on rewards for those who get Firsts, it is unlikely to change soon.