St John’s College to offer free university places to UK’s most disadvantaged students

Eligible undergraduates will receive £17,000 per academic year, and the programme will support up to 40 students at a time

St John’s College, Cambridge has launched a new programme to full fund the education and living costs for several of its students who are from lower-income backgrounds.

Undergraduates eligible for the “Free Places” financial support package will be able to access more than £17,000 of financial support for every academic year at Cambridge. This will cover the £9,250 annual tuition fees, as well as rent and maintenance costs, making it “the most generous student finance support in the country”, according to the college’s website.

Each qualifying student will receive around £51,000 of support in total, based on an undergraduate enrolled on a three year degree course. The programme will cater for up to 40 undergraduate students at a time.

The money will not need to be paid back, allowing students to graduate “completely debt-free from one of the world’s leading universities.”

The programme will begin in October 2023, thus benefitting pupils currently in Year 11 or below. There will be a recruitment campaign to “attract exceptionally bright students” to Cambridge whose household income is below £16,200 per year.

All qualifying students who are offered a place at St John’s will automatically receive the grants from the college from the academic year 2023-24.

The Free Places programme has been launched thanks to an anonymous foundation which has made a £14 million pledge to the college’s Free Places fundraising campaign, and this sum will be used partly to to “match other donations” to the Free Places programme, which will help to “maximise the support available to students who need it most.”

The fund available as part of this programme is endowed, meaning that when it is introduced, the Free Places programme will be a permanent fixture of the financial support on offer for undergraduates at St John’s.

Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s, said: “For more than 500 years, St John’s College has had an unwavering commitment to provide financial support for students in need. We are determined to sustain this legacy. Removing serious financial barriers for prospective students is a powerful signal that Cambridge really is for everyone.

“It is still true that high-potential pupils from low-income families, and young people leaving care, are deciding against university because of the prospect of significant debt. They don’t want to be a burden to their family. They worry about their future employability and how they’ll ever be free of an unimaginable financial millstone from attending university.

“We want to take away that anxiety and to give those talented young people the confidence to take a life-changing step towards St John’s and the University of Cambridge, knowing that they will truly be welcome and supported here. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of a donor, we already have £14m pledged of the £25m we need to deliver this student support in perpetuity. We hope this programme will be backed by philanthropists who share our commitment to helping exceptional students realise their potential.”

The launch of this programme comes after St John’s ran a “St John’s Studentship” pilot scheme, which pays the maintenance costs for qualifying undergraduates, but not their tuition fees. So far, this scheme has supported more than 200 students who have received a total of £2.8 million in financial support from the college.

Additionally, an “experienced academic” from St John’s has been appointed to “forge links” with schools in the north of England, to support students “who may never have previously contemplated applying to Cambridge.”

Feature image credit: Jess Marais