The Oxford-Radcliffe Scholarships
In 2012, a group of Old Members of University College Oxford made an historic commitment of £10m to endow graduate scholarships, to be known as the Oxford-Radcliffe Scholarships. It was the largest single commitment received by the College in modern times and was used to support postgraduate study and research across a range of subjects.
In February 2020, a reception was held at the College to celebrate the Radcliffe benefaction and scholars; one of our last in-person events before the pandemic. A selection of scholars were interviewed about their time at Univ and the impact the benefaction has had on their academic career.
We would like to thank the following scholars for taking part: Matt Bailey (2018, Chemistry), Matteo Croci (2015, Maths), Sylvana Hassanieh (2017, Medicine), Heather Jeffery (2016, Bioscience), James King (2016, Energy), Harry Morgan (2017, Chemistry)
Watch the Videos
Radcliff Scholarship Current And Future Plans
A short history of the Oxford-Radcliffe Scholarships
A conversation between Professor Nicholas Rawlins, Emeritus Fellow, Master of Morningside College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Professor Peter Jezzard, Vice Master, Professorial Fellow and Herbert Dunhill Professor of Neuroimaging.
Nick: The way it started really was two-fold. Independently, Sir Ivor Crewe and I were worried about what the impact would be on graduate recruitment at a time when undergraduate fees went up to a really significant level. For the first time ever we were now going to find that people who already owed £40,000 – £50,000 were considering graduate study, and also thinking about how they would be able to fund it. There was a real fear that people would just conclude that they couldn’t afford it.
I was also interested in how to get the University to put endowment resources into graduate study. In discussion with Ivor, he said that he had a possible offer of help from external sources, but it was going to need the University to come up with an attractive scheme. So, in essence, it was like building a bridge from both sides of the river: the University recognised that we really needed to do something, and at the same time the College had a possible funding match available. I attribute a lot of the drive for this to the donors themselves, who thought about how a match could possibly work. So, my first task was to demonstrate to the University that there was a practical proposition that would raise new money for graduate studies.
I think the really critical step was the University being willing to devote its central resources to go alongside college-specific donations. In a sense, this was like thinking of each college development office as ‘a little engine that can,’ complementing the work of the University centrally. We did, however, have a number of problems to solve. We not only had to find the capital, but we also had to find a way in which everybody could agree about what the yield would need to be. What the University did was to say they could ringfence some of the funds in the OUEM (Oxford University Endowment Management) fund and those would then be dedicated to specific graduate scholarships. And the colleges, when they brought in their capital donations, would need to guarantee that they would provide a return at the same rate as OUEM.
Univ was ahead of the pack in terms of getting this off the ground. One of the things about Univ that really made things possible was that it had a provisional funding match available. While some other colleges were more sceptical, I was able to tell them that, even if I was not sure how it would work, I could absolutely guarantee it that it could work. Univ then was very good at signing up to the general notion of the way that the scheme could operate.
So, the University had the money, and at least some colleges were prepared to raise a funding match. That meant we had to limit the amount that any college could take, because it was very clear that a single college could, in principle, eat up the whole of the University’s matching sum. We therefore put limits on how much each college could take, so it would be spread reasonably broadly, and it really took off from there. What was wonderful from my point of view was that even some colleges which were less sure about the scheme discovered that their donors really liked it. Suddenly they were getting money that was going into their endowments and they were getting good students actually wanting to come to them.
Peter: Nick has a direct influence on my involvement. I was the Dean of Graduates at the time all of this was kicking off. The reason I was Dean of Graduates was that I had had quite a bit of experience with graduate matters through the Medical Sciences Division, as the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee for that division. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was quite hard work, but what it did do was give me the opportunity to see at first hand the system that the Medical Sciences Division used for awarding graduate scholarships. I found it a very attractive mechanism, better than most divisions and elsewhere in the University, because what they did was try very hard to rank the best students across the whole division who were applying to Oxford Medical Sciences, and then to assemble full funding packages from various sources for as many on the list as they could.
It was very clear to me from watching that process that, firstly, in order to attract the best people, you needed to offer them funding and secondly, you needed to make that funding full funding, so it had to be the fees and the stipend. I’d seen that work extremely well to attract very good students, and make sure that they came to Oxford and not Harvard, UCLA, Cambridge or wherever else it might be. When I became Dean of Graduate Studies I think we had some token amounts of graduate funding available, but a lot of it was relatively small, £2,000 or £3,000 a year to support somebody. It was enough to make a bit of a difference to people who were maybe on the edge of coming or not coming, but it really wasn’t going to attract some excellent students who would get fully funded offers elsewhere. So, the first thing that I did when I took over as Dean of Graduates was identify two or three pockets of money that were reasonable: mostly they came from the Old Members’ Trust. It struck me that we could go and link it to RCUK money – or some other partner – and create a fully funded package.
At the time that all this started to happen, Nick was engaged in his negotiations and we suddenly had this opportunity for a really sizeable amount of money. It struck me that there was a good opportunity. As Nick said, there’s nothing like further leveraging: you’ve got leverage from the University and you’ve got the donor coming in, and then if you can find yet another partner suddenly the money’s going that much further, and it can have a whole lot more impact. I was conscious of the fact that we needed to try and have an early impact with this really exciting donation, and so I immediately started to try and form some departmental and divisional and external leverages, that would create fully funded packages: for us to put our money in, however, the requirement would be that this had to be fully funded. That actually was a condition of the Oxford Graduate Match Scheme anyway, but that requirement completely resonated with what I felt needed to happen, and what I’d seen work in the Medical Sciences Division. I also wanted to try and make sure that we had good coverage across the College subject areas, as much as possible.
The donors had some fairly clear ideas about how they wanted the money spent. They specified certain subject areas, although there was some breadth to them. They were passionate about earth sciences and economics. Medical sciences was on the list too. There was a certain amount in social sciences, political sciences, global governance and so on.
There was originally a challenge element to the donation: they would put in additional amounts if we demonstrated success in attracting new money. I was initially a little bit nervous about that, because I could foresee a situation where we had some very heavy funding in certain subject areas – driven by the donor desires – but that might mean there were many areas in the College that were not supported at all. Fortunately, were fairly relaxed in interpreting that further amount – and in the end I think we ended up with a pretty good spread of subject areas being covered by graduate funding support.
As Dean of Graduates, I saw most, if not all, of the dossiers that were coming through the College from graduate applicants, and I was also tracking how they were funded, and how many of them had to self-finance their education, take out loans or rely on family money. What I realised over the years was that as we began to expand our programme – and it surely must be one of the most successful college-based graduate scholarship programmes in Oxford – the quality of the people that we had apply to us, and the quality of people that we ended up with, went up and up. We found that such good people were applying to us – even if we didn’t end up funding them ourselves, either through the Radcliffe or one of our other scholarship schemes – they were often of such a quality that they got the funding somehow anyway. So a very high proportion of our students now are fully funded, either by us directly through our programmes, or indirectly because they just are highly talented students. I think that’s another benefit that we’ve realised through this donation.
Nick: There was inevitably concern from small colleges, and particular departments, that the money would go to just one or two big players; that one or two subjects would take the entire sum. My take on it was that actually if it turned out that medical sciences got lots of scholarships, humanities would be no worse off, but, because of the de-centralised, distributed fund-raising effort, everyone got going and, just as Univ ended up more balanced than some had feared, so did the University more generally.
Univ and its supporters saw the potential, and were willing to match up to what the University was going to need. The University’s initiative and the College’s initiative were a match for each other in strategic terms. It’s clear that different groups saw the same needs: external donors saw the need; Univ and the other colleges saw the need; and the central University and departments saw the need, and they all helped each other.
For me, one of the consequences of the scheme is that other colleges would suddenly think that it made sense to endow graduate scholarships, because it would be leveraged against the University’s matching funds, and so it really did result in resources being dedicated to graduate study that would not have been allocated that way.
I think Sir Ivor really was important in this, because he wasn’t pushy, but he was clear about what he thought the colleges could do. I think it depended on having imagination about what might happen. If all the colleges had just said it’s a waste of space it would never have happened.
I guess there’s another thing, and that is the huge growth in graduate student numbers. Some were worried that this might damage the atmosphere in the College. I would have said it totally did not. I think it has added a new layer of interest. Endowing graduate scholarships means that in around twenty years, or thereabouts, we will have achieved for graduates something that took centuries to achieve for undergraduates.
Peter: I did a review of the graduate strategy for the College soon after I took over as Dean of Graduates, and the number one factor mentioned by students for choosing a college and for choosing Oxford was a fully funded studentship. But the number two factor was provision of accommodation. I think we have done a fantastic job of number one, and I think we are now doing a great job with number two. Another metric that I tracked was completion rates, and they absolutely improved as a result of the quality of the students and the fact that they didn’t have those financial worries. They didn’t need to take outside work, they didn’t need to be distracted from their studies, and they were fully funded – so there was a real benefit.
Nick: There’s one other thing. I talk to students in Hong Kong, about where they would like to go. They ask whether they should go to the USA, because they worry that UK doctorates don’t last long enough. I say in four years of doing a UK doctorate you will get more done than you do in six in the USA, and you can get on with life two years sooner. So, with a fully funded graduate scholarship in the UK, not only do you bring in good people because it’s fully funded, but also you bring them in because they reckon that they will be going on to real life two or three years earlier than if they went to a really good university in the US, where you have to partly fund your way through by taking on some form of paid work during your period of study. So, I think Oxford’s fully funded graduate scholarships are a fabulous model and I think they’re part of the attraction of the place.