Analysis: Cambridge Colleges - £20,000 difference in education spending

How your choice of College determines the amount of education you receive.

The 2011-12 University accounts reveal that there are vast differences between the amount of money each College spends on educating its students. Figures from last year show the existence of a £19,000 per head spending gap across the University, as students have access to widely varying sums of money with which to supplement their education.

The University provided, on average, £3,100 a year for the education of each student, slightly less than the £3,375 tuition fees charged that year. However, when the colleges supplement this income with their own personal funds, the amount of money allocated for educating each student can range from £1,700 at Darwin College, up to £20,000 at Trinity College.

Guidelines set out by the Forty-first Report of the Fees Sub-Committee, and submitted to the Council, outline how the moneyeach College receives from the University should be spent, statingthe responsibilities of each College for educating its students.‘Education' does not merely cover contact time but also areas such as discipline, academic resources, analysis and financial assistance.

Due to the nature of the collegiate system, each College has "primary responsibility for the directing its students' education and small-group teaching of their students" and to ensure "adequate" teaching space for their students in "a fully supportive environment of education, learning, and research", according to the guidelines given by the Bursars' Committee.

The report states that the University and colleges should work closely together "on all matters of common interest affecting the education of students and the pursuit of scholarship and research."

However, the colleges are also able to supplement the money they receive with their own endowment funds, enabling some to offer more education opportunities to their students.

Homerton College received the most money from the University, receiving £4.3 million, but has no extra funds to supplement this income, spending £3,400 per head. In contrast, Trinity College received £3.5 million from the University, but supplemented this with £2.7 million from its own funds. This resulted in the College spending £20,000 per head, almost six times the amount spent on the average student at Homerton.

The size of the individual College can play a crucial part in the total costs per head with Peterhouse spending £7,000 on each student despite receiving less than half the money that Homerton College does.

However, significant discrepancies can also be seen between colleges of the same size. Downing and Emmanuel receive very similar amounts of money from the University and have a similar number of students, yet the spend per head at Emmaunel is £1,000 higher.

This difference in spend manifests itself, in the first instance, in major disparities in the provision of supervisions, with a recent investigation carried out by Varsity revealing that some students receive twice the amount of contact hours as others.

This has resulted in supervision gaps of up to 71 hours, whilst those colleges with a smaller spend per head are perhaps only able to offer the minimum of contact hours as dictated by the faculties and departments.

However the vast disparities between these figures are potentially due to the inclusion of College grants and funds, which are dedicated to helping students with their courses either through the provision of materials, or by awarding money for extra-curricular activities such as sport and travel.

With a supplementary income of £970,000 Pembroke College offers its students a "book grant of up to £60 per year towards relevant course books" according to its website, while those at Clare can be reimbursed around 50% for any academic purchases over £40. In contrast, each undergraduate at St John's has access to £300 per year and graduates to £500 through a Learning and Resource fund.

When asked to comment on these discrepancies between the colleges, Rosalyn Old, Cambridge University Students' Union President, told The Cambridge Student that: "Colleges have much more in common than they have differences between them, and most students enjoy a fantastic educational experience irrespective of the College they attend.

"But it's undeniable that some are wealthier than others, and that the quality and extent of facilities and additional resources they provide vary significantly. The University needs to accept that it has a responsibility to work to minimise this unfairness for students."

With no University-wide regulations on how much money each student can have access to, education within the collegiate system remains something of a lottery.

Jenny Buckley – News Editor

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