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Students give bursary scheme the thumbs up

Students supported by the Pilot Top-Up Bursary Scheme say the grants have transformed their experience at Cambridge, reducing anxiety about making ends meet and enabling them to participate fully in student life.

In this scheme, first year UK and EU undergraduates from low- and middle-income households received additional support during term time, in addition to the Cambridge Bursary.

In total, 426 students at 13 Colleges across Cambridge benefited from the Pilot Top-Up Bursary Scheme (PTUBS), which was initiated by Trinity College in 2018.

When Trinity Classics student Matthew Sargent heard about the initiative he was struck initially by ‘the incredible generosity of individual donors.’

I was also really thankful, even relieved, to have this extra financial provision on offer. In a high stakes environment like Cambridge, the last thing students want to be worrying about is finance, so I felt that added burden taken off my back and the knowledge that I had this other ‘reserve’, so to speak, to call upon, was really beneficial.

I could concentrate on my studies while all the time not having to fret about pinching pennies. Just as important was the knowledge that I had enough in the bank, not only to tide myself through university, but also enjoy my time as a student. Where PTUBS came into a league of its own was in the small things that make each and every day worthwhile and enjoyable.

The scheme was designed in part to reduce the sharpness of the taper in the Cambridge Bursary scheme, which provides £3,500 a year to students whose household income is under £25,000, and nothing to those with household income of more than £42,000.

PTUBS is part of ambitious plans developed by the Collegiate University – the Student Support Initiative – that includes assistance for students from under-represented and less-advantaged backgrounds.

The Faculty for Education at Cambridge evaluated the scheme’s first year and its success means the extension and expansion of the scheme for 2019-2020. Dr Sonia Ilie, who led the Bursaries Research Project, said that among the findings 95% of recipients said that the additional support was ‘very important’ or ‘important’ in them continuing their studies. Some Colleges have reported fewer students being referred to hardship committees.

Three Colleges – Trinity Hall, Hughes Hall and Robinson – have joined Christ’s, Churchill, Fitzwilliam, Homerton, King’s, Magdalene, Murray Edwards, Newnham, Pembroke, Peterhouse, Selwyn, Trinity and Wolfson in PTUBS this academic year.

Support for Trinity’s students through this scheme has been provided through philanthropic donations from the College’s alumni. The Senior Tutor, Professor Catherine Barnard said:

We have excellent students at Trinity and we want them to be able to focus on their studies and enjoy the opportunities Cambridge has to offer. PTUBS helps with this. The College is deeply grateful to all the donors who have chosen to support our students in this way.

For Computer Science student Kacper Walentynowicz, PTUBS support was essential for him to come to Trinity.

‘For me the bursary top-up was important from the very beginning. My friends from Cambridge advised me to apply to Trinity. If I couldn’t find financial support I would have applied to a different College or stayed in my home country (Poland),’ he said.  ‘I was very surprised by how Student Finance calculated my household income – for example, they totally ignored how many children my parents have. This caused me some trouble. I was even contacting some Polish foundations, but then PTUBS came and I was relieved.’

Rebekah West, studying Natural Sciences at Trinity, agreed that the support allowed her to focus on her studies.

‘PTUBS made a significant contribution towards my accommodation fees, which took a lot of pressure off me financially and helped me to concentrate on my work. With this year’s support, I will save up for tickets to the Trinity May Ball, because last year it looked amazing but I didn’t get to go,’ she said.

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