Cambridge – I love you, but get stuffed


I just received some glossy cards from my old university college (Clare) asking for help to fund student bursaries for people who can’t afford £9,000 a year tuition fees. While this sounds very laudable, almost like a charitable response to natural disaster, the university can’t actually raise the fees to this level unless (a) it chooses to and (b) it succeeds in raising more money to help students who can’t afford the fees. So this request to help students in dire need is, in effect, the university’s permission slip for causing that need to come about.


I respect Cambridge as a clever institution, but this is just mean and – I hope – self-defeating.

Here is the reply I sent to the development office. I’d welcome your comments and if you feel like copying any of it, please feel absolutely free to do so.


Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your recent brochure on the Student Bursary scheme. I’m sorry that I rarely reply to such requests for funding, but on this occasion it feels too important to avoid.

The concern expressed for students facing tuition fees of £9,000 a year is gratifying – this is clearly a major and, in this country, an unprecedented burden which will prove offputting to many talented people. I greatly enjoyed my time at Clare and, while I came from an extremely cash-poor background, it was not only a privilege to be at the University, but also a character defining experience which has proven useful for life. I will always be inspired by the remarkable ingenuity of my fellow students and the system in general.

It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that you seem to have missed an obvious solution to this problem. If student welfare is really your “number one priority”, don’t raise the fees to £9,000 a year.

I note that the government will not, in fact, let you do this unless the University provides compelling evidence that you are doing more to make places accessible to poorer students. This scheme seems to be a step in that direction. Therefore, while contributing towards the fund will help the University to charge more for tuition, this seems counter-productive for anyone whose primary concern is student welfare.

On that basis, I won’t be contributing. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest that you can cut your costs further by not sending me any more brochures asking for money. Much as I will miss the pictures of trees and libraries, this small sacrifice seems the least I can do to help.

While I totally sympathise with students who cannot afford to pay the new fees, it seems to me that the cleverest among them will work out that they simply don’t have to – they can go elsewhere. I’m hoping the best will. After all, what kind of character building is going to happen among people who feel it’s right to demand £3,000 extra a year from each undergradute – because this is now possible – but call that inevitable while seeking charitable aid to help bring it about? This isn’t ingenuity to promote innovation, it’s disingenuity to defend an institution.

Yours faithfully,
Bern Leckie

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