Colleges are not equal and we need to stop pretending otherwise

Image credit: Ed Brambley

Following two recent TCS investigations which revealed a “serious inequality” in the giving of travel grants, and a huge discrepancy in the provision of financial scholarships across the colleges, should the university be considering an overhaul of current approaches to Access?

In my experience, those who apply to the university from a so-called ‘Access Background’ are faced in the application process with the double burden of applying to an academically competitive university (like everyone else), but also entering into a system with which they are completely and utterly unfamiliar.

The entire process of looking at and eventually choosing the colleges is, it seems, an admissions test in itself — big, small; old, new; far, near: there are so many additional decisions to make that they never warn you about on the UCAS form. All too often, it ends with the same panicked scroll through admissions statistics, and forums on ‘The Student Room’ telling you which college is a ‘state-school college’ — a process which doesn’t often end with the conclusion that Trinity is the most welcoming place for a state-school student.

Prospective applicants are told when applying that ‘every college is essentially the same’, ‘everyone receives the same education’ — but are we not lying to our hopefuls? Yes, we all follow a curriculum decided for us by our faculty; yes, we can all go to the same lectures, and yes, unfortunately, we will all sit the same exams. But our academic experience at Cambridge is worth much more than that. We are worth much more than that.

Our ability to access grants and scholarships which allow us to live relatively comfortably financially, are an incredibly important aspect of our welfare system. The ability to study at Cambridge without significant money worries, and join in with activities — with friends who may be better-off financially than you — in a town which is rather expensive to live in, is a crucial part of enjoying and thus making the most of your time here.

Equally, whilst it may be argued that Cambridge is fairly unique in its provision of travel grants, and that we should be grateful for what we’re getting, we cannot ignore the vast difference between Trinity spending on avenge £167.94 per student, and Homerton merely £13.80. We shouldn’t lie to our applicants about the myth of ‘every college is the same’; it’s a false equality, it’s misleading, and damaging for individual students. Figures such as Trinity spending an average of £4,203 per student through scholarship provision is not one we should hide.

Whilst, the stereotypically ‘rich’ colleges may on the surface seem the most uninviting of the colleges for state school students, in fact, at least from a financial perspective, they could be the most beneficial.

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