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Why the Cambridge Bursary means so much

The Cambridge Bursary is about much more than you may think


I think it may be an understatement to say that Cambridge has an elitist reputation, which I am politely reminded of by my friends back home. This holds true however with just 72.5 per cent of Cambridge pupils being from state schools, whereas 93 per cent of pupils nationwide attend a state school.

This does suggest that the process of getting into Cambridge favours those from certain backgrounds, yet this is only the start of Cambridge elitism experienced by less privileged Cambridge students.

Why a gown is so important

From the moment you accept your offer before you even set foot in Cambridge, the costs of such a niche university way of life begin to arise. Whilst not formally necessary, the “notoriously Oxbridge” matriculation gown can vary from between ¬£40 – ¬£125, a massive expense for those from underprivileged backgrounds. However, this purchase has an overwhelming feeling of necessity, as turning up to Matriculation without one you can’t help but feel left out, as though a lack of a gown or a ‘cape’, as my mum calls it, is an indication of your poverty in comparison to the privilege evident.

Additional potential for exclusion will include a lack of formalwear, not going to formal dinners, or not being a member of the Cambridge Union.

Me at matriculation (Image credits: James Hyde)

The Union should be for all

The Union provides incredible experiences and opportunities with visits from people such as Brian Cox and Bill gates and enriching experiences such as debate training. These experiences are privileges in which some can easily afford and enjoy. However, for others the life time membership is a considerable investment.

Reducing exclusion

This is why the Cambridge Bursary is so important. It must be said that the bursary is obviously not just about inclusion and helps low income students massively with living costs yet the inclusion it allows is overlooked. Without the bursary and reduction in price for the union for those on it there would be a division between those who are included in the Cambridge culture and those who are not.

The Cambridge bursary therefore can be a tool to reduce feelings of exclusion which students  from state school backgrounds feel anyway being at Cambridge.

The Bursary doesn’t solve everything

It needs to be said that despite me pointing out how the Bursary and financial help from Cambridge can help void the gap and reduce cultural exclusion in this university it does not solve all the problems faced. Firstly, the bursary does not take into account that money received may be needed back home instead of for fitting in the Cambridge culture. This means that cultural exclusion can still occur. Furthermore, the bursary can’t change the culture that exists which can be a tool of exclusion itself.

It is an unfortunate truth that elitism still exists at Cambridge and with that, those who don’t fit the culture feel excluded despite economic support that they may receive – as helpful as it can be. For example, the unfortunate accent stigma can cause exclusion from the Cambridge culture even if students are helped financially.

Overall, the Cambridge Bursary is absolutely necessary to help low income students not only with living in Cambridge, but also so they can participate in the Cambridge culture which they should be a valued part of. Therefore changing the elitist reputation and culture Cambridge has developed over its centuries of existence alongside the bursary can work towards a more inclusive environment in our university.

The University Of Cambridge declined to comment.

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