Funding at Oxford: The changing relationship between student and university

19 May 2014
Katie Crabtree, May 2014

Katie Crabtree, May 2014

Kathryn Crabtree (MSc Education) tells us about her current research examining the relationship between the university and the student where hardship funding has been allocated. Does funding affect a student’s integration with the university? Katie is looking for volunteers to share their experiences of receiving, or administering, hardship funding. If you would like to participate in this research project, please contact Katie (details below).

Tuition fees, domestic and international, are an unyielding force since I joined Oxford for graduate study from my undergraduate degree in the United States. This undoubtedly stirred my interests in higher educational studies. As students increasingly fund their higher educational career out of pocket, or their parents’ pockets, or their future pay checks, I think this fundamentally changes the relationship between university and student. In regards to rising university costs, most attention is devoted to access and the removal of financial barriers from tertiary study. For the English system, this has resulted in a complex system of bursaries, fee waivers, and access agreements. My research interests, however, go beyond the point of access. My focus is on financial obstacles that occur once students have already been matriculated: hardship.

This particular facet of financial need highlights the numerous tensions at play in a higher education system in which having the financial means to substantiate one’s studies is a deciding factor in who ultimately obtains a degree. It showcases the expectations of students from their institutions and of institutions from their students when acute financial need collides with hard budgetary lines.

What my research project aims to find out is how this particular interaction between student and institution affects students’ sense of belonging at the university. Student integration is typically understood in an academic or social sense. As financing one’s studies grows in importance, I contend that financial transactions between students and their universities are similarly crucial for integration. Situating this element in the context of hardship funding is a unique perspective to take; it is urgent financial need experienced by students for whom a small amount financial assistance from the university can mean the difference between rustication and continuation.

In order to answer this question I have chosen to situate my study at none other than Oxford, which anyone here will beguilingly tell you is a “complex” place. In terms of hardship funding, this is undoubtedly the case. Oxford and it colleges, with their remarkably high provision for hardship funding, high retention rate, and their criticism for exclusivity, offer a unique platform to examine the effects on student integration when students look to the institution for support in times of financial difficulty.

To get an in-depth view of what goes on, I am interviewing students who have attempted to procure hardship funding from the university or their colleges to explore how that affected their views of the institution and ultimately their place within it. Additionally, I am carrying out interviews with staff and fellows who administer or make decisions on hardship funding to explore their perspectives of how it affects students beyond monetary support (in doing so, I get a sneak peak behind the gates of other colleges which was a rather selfish reason for deciding to carry out my study here!). So, dear readers, if you are of either ilk and are willing to donate 45 minutes of your time to share your experiences with hardship funding, it would be invaluable for my research. Students, staff, and faculty who have experience applying for or administering college hardship funds, the Access to Learning Fund, or the University Hardship Fund at Oxford are welcome to contact me at to find out more about participation.

Since beginning my studies at Kellogg College, I have found that student funding is a passion of mine that extends beyond my research. This passion influences my work in my role as the Development Officer of the Middle Common Room (MCR). During my time in this role I hope to launch the Kellogg MCR Award for Excellence. This award will be funded by donations of graduating students and will be granted to an on-course student the following year for academic merit and outstanding contributions to college life. The Kellogg MCR Award for Excellence will be unique from other scholarships awarded at Kellogg in that it will be awarded in Hilary Term so that both Master’s and DPhil, and part-time and full-time students are eligible. This award is based on the Student Legacy Scholarship of my alma mater, Grand Valley State University, to which I donated upon completion of my undergraduate career to support future students like myself. Instating a similar tradition at Kellogg will enhance our College’s emphasis on community and academic pursuit. It will also be an opportunity for graduating students to leave a legacy of support for future students.

My time on the MCR Committee has shown me that Kellogg College is certainly the perfect collegiate fit for me. Its prominence in socially relevant academic research renders it an encouraging environment for me to pursue my research on hardship funding and student integration. Its inclusivity and egalitarian values allow me to pursue my initiative to create an innovative award on the MCR. Not to mention, its dining hall is an excellent place to share a meal with friends and fellows. Hailing from the wheat fields of West Michigan, where our namesake’s W.K. Kellogg Foundation originated, definitely helps me feel at home under our college crest!