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Written by:
Paul Holland
21 Jun 2021

A new enhanced bursary scheme is being launched by the University of Cambridge to support undergraduate students facing financial pressures.

Over the next ten years, more than £100 million will be awarded to students, across all the Colleges. The additional funding, to help with living costs, will enable students to enjoy the benefits a Cambridge education offers, regardless of their personal financial circumstances. Students will start benefiting from October 2021.

The new scheme is being made possible through the generosity of philanthropic donations from alumni and friends of the collegiate University. The Harding Challenge, established by David and Claudia Harding as part of their £100 million gift to Cambridge and St Catharine’s College in February 2019, was designed to underpin this expansion in bursary provision.

Far more students will qualify for support since the threshold for eligibility will rise from the current maximum household income of £42,620 to £62,215. The University expects 25 – 30% of students will be eligible for the enhanced support (currently it’s around 20%). Once fully rolled out, around 700 students will also qualify for an additional £1,000 because they were eligible for free school meals.

UK students can apply to the Student Loans Company for a maintenance loan to cover basic living costs. There is widespread take-up of these loans: repayments are linked to future earnings which means they are more like a tax than conventional debt, and they are an invaluable support to making University more affordable for as many students as possible.

However, research conducted by the University suggests many students struggle to meet all their expenses because parents often can’t afford to contribute to the extent that these means-tested loans assume they will. It’s these financial gaps that the new bursary scheme will help to alleviate.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, said: “This new enhanced bursary scheme, which wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of donors, will help to ease some of our students’ financial worries. The scheme’s launch means far more students will be eligible for support. This is particularly relevant now, at a time when many families’ incomes have been affected adversely by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The launch of the enhanced bursary scheme follows a pilot scheme involving 20 Colleges established by Trinity College. Students in receipt of these bursaries said they were able to participate more fully in the academic and wider student activities Cambridge has to offer. The awards also had a positive impact on their mental well-being, reducing the anxieties they had about finances.

Trinity Hall took part in this initial pilot scheme and offered top-up bursaries to 62 of our freshers over the past two academic years. These additional bursaries have been made possible thanks to donations from alumni and supporters. One donor explained how he had benefitted from a scholarship and wanted to pay it forward, believing education to be a great leveller at a time of widening inequality.

Zak receives a top-up bursary and explained the difference it makes to him: “The funds I receive are very important in enabling me to cover living expenses at Cambridge. I come from a single-parent household and receiving a bursary has alleviated many of our financial concerns, allowing me to focus on my studies. For that I am hugely grateful.”

Read more on our top-up bursary scheme news page.

Clare Jackson, Trinity Hall Senior Tutor, said: “The launch of the University-wide enhanced bursary scheme is terrific news. Especially in these uncertain financial times, we hope that it will continue to ease the money worries of future Trinity Hall undergraduates, as well as alleviating the budgeting concerns of their families, especially those who are also supporting other school-age or university students.

“We’re very grateful to all the alumni and other donors whose philanthropic generosity will, through this bursary scheme, make a very real difference to the day-to-day university experiences of so many future Hall alumni.”

The University’s Faculty of Education has conducted research to find out how effective this level of support is for students. This found it contributes substantially to their wellbeing, participation in academic life and student societies, and overall student experience.

Under the new scheme, scaled bursaries ranging from £100 to £3,500 per year will be given to students from households with an assessed income of up to £62,215, without any application needed. The previous upper limit for assessed income was £42,620. All undergraduates from households with assessed incomes below £25,000 will receive the maximum amount. The bursaries are in the form of non-repayable grants.

Awards will be further enhanced for students who join the University from local authority care or who are estranged from their families. In addition, the scheme will include a supplementary award of £1,000 per year to all low-income students who qualified for free school meals, contributing to a bursary of £4,500 in each year of their undergraduate studies.

Trinity Hall will be fundraising to ensure that we can continue to support more students via this enhanced bursary scheme. If you would be interested in learning more, please contact the Development Director on