Hawking ‘fears’ cuts to support for disabled students

Stevie Hertz 31 May 2015

Professor Stephen Hawking has criticized the support available for disabled fellows and students since government cuts. Speaking at a banquet on Saturday night to celebrate his 50th anniversary of becoming a fellow of Gonville and Caius College, the renowned physicist commented, "I wonder whether a young ambitious academic, with my kind of severe condition now, would find the same generosity and support in much of higher education.

"Even with the best goodwill, would the money still be there? I fear not."

He went on how Caius has helped him in the past 50 years, including chartering a plane to bring him back to England when he fell ill in Switzerland and students organizing a rota to read to him and wondered whether this level of support could be provided for disabled students and academics today.

He finished his speech by saying "In yet another universe, there might be many colleges like this one. But for now, we're here in this one, and there's just one Gonville and Caius. Let us cherish it, for the next 50 years and beyond."

The Master of Caius, Professor Sir Alan Fersht, insisted that support was still available, responding, "Stephen questioned whether a young academic in his condition would get the same level of support today? For Caius at least, I can say emphatically "Yes"… The fellowship is a family, just as our students, our staff and our alumni are all parts of the Caian family."

However, one Caius student disagreed with the Master’s remarks, commenting “Gonville and Caius, where the rent's gone up 20% in three years – but really we're all just one big happy family”. The GCSU, Caius' JCR committee, has a no comment to student press policy. 

This is not the first time that Hawking has questioned the impact of cuts. In 2008, he warned that Britain’s scientific standing was threatened by £80 million of grant cuts. At the time, he commented that the grants were “the lifeblood of our research effort; cutting them will hurt young researchers and cause enormous damage both to British science and to our international reputation.”