Pembroke students vote to keep scholar’s ballot

Pembroke College
Image credit: Catherine Lally

The Pembroke Junior Parlour Committee (JPC), or JCR equivalent, closed its elections on Wednesday along with a vote on whether to keep the Scholar’s Ballot system - which gives students who obtain Firsts the option of taking a larger room in College. The minimum voter turnout threshold was 10%, but the overall elections saw 70% of the undergraduate student body voting. While the results are preliminary, 121 students voted to keep the Scholar’s Ballot, as opposed to 114 who voted against it- meaning a difference of 7 votes. 78 blank votes were cast.

Pembroke is one of the 7 remaining colleges to run a room-allocating system where academic performance has influence. Critics of the system point to the Scholar’s Ballot as perpetuating a culture of academic elitism (where students are defined by their grades) and unhealthy competitiveness, which can exacerbate student mental health issues. They also point to the varying percentages of Firsts awarded across different subjects. Conversely, others point to the Scholar’s Ballot as a form of healthy positive reinforcement, to go along with the £500-600 scholarships the College rewards to students who obtain Firsts.

A document sent out by the JPC to undergraduate members of the College wrote that: "In Summer 2017, there were 24 Scholar’s rooms (defined as sets that were put aside for being part of the Scholar’s Ballot). From the 52 Foundation Scholars, only 16 decided to switch rooms in the summer, while from the 39 College Scholars, only 10 chose to enter the Scholar’s Ballot.” 

College Scholars are students who obtain Firsts in their first year at Cambridge, while Foundation Scholars obtain them in second and third year. 

The JPC had indicated that while there would not be an immediate change if the referendum result was positive, they would advocate the removal of the system with College. While the JPC did not take an official position on either side of the referendum, they looked to gain a better understanding of the position most students took on the issue.

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