I am a Crankstart scholar, and I am proud of it.
For those who are unaware, the Crankstart scholarship is offered to Oxford students from lower household income backgrounds, and comes in the form of financial aid and career development help. Frankly, the support which the university provides for its scholars is pretty much unparalleled; study sessions and career events, exclusive internships, professional mentors, CV discussions, and for some, a reduction in tuition fees. I’m glad that the programme exists, and if anything I wish that it could be extended further; international students from low-income backgrounds face extortionate course fees and prohibitively minimal funding support.
There are many valid criticisms of Oxford to be made by Crankstarters, both with regards to the actual university itself and the student body. However, the actual Crankstart scholarship itself is way down on that list of common complaints. Why should I get hung up about feeling too proud to accept charity when I am at an institution with other students who happen to have been born into a much more comfortable life than my own? That’s just the lottery of birth, and whilst I fervently believe in creating a society which has a fairer distribution of wealth and fewer financial barriers to education, in the mean time I have no shame in taking advantage of support which is being offered to me to help level the playing field a little; I deserve to have a university experience which is more on par with my wealthier peers.
I deserve to have a university experience which is more on par with my wealthier peers.
Never during my time of being a Crankstart scholar have I been made to feel shame or patronised by the university. If anything, it has been the opposite. Careers advisers have encouraged me to place it front and centre on my CV as an emblem of my academic success against the odds, and I have been offered internships and professional mentors by people who respect that being a Crankstarter often means that I have substantial perseverance, work ethic and life experience.
The mandatory volunteering aspect of the scholarship is what tends to create the most discourse. 25 hours per academic year is the amount which is stipulated, and this can include a wide range of activities including access work and supporting local organisations.
To start simple: the actual number of hours isn’t really an issue when you consider that we have until the end of the summer vacation to complete these hours, and during pandemic times the team have taken a more lenient attitude towards this requirement. When one considers the financial support provided in return, you’re certainly getting far more than a minimum wage job would compensate you for the same number of hours! However, when it comes to helping out with college and university access, the picture becomes a little more complicated.
For a variety of reasons elucidated better by others elsewhere, it is not uncommon for scholars to be tentative about involving themselves with such initiatives. Let’s not kid ourselves, there are ongoing issues with classism and racism (and so forth) at Oxford, and one may well think twice before putting on a smile and promising the world to potential applicants.
More broadly, the fact that the volunteering is mandatory may, understandably, cause some to feel uncomfortable. Why should poorer students have to work for their keep when richer students can survive on mummy and daddy’s monthly bank account top up? The fact that we have to do some hours of labour in order to receive financial support may elicit visions of the poor students in the proverbial workhouse doing the unpaid labour of the university. I won’t deny that the fact that scholars have to (and when I say have to, in addition to the blanket leniency, you are also treated with compassion if you have personal / health issues which make it difficult to fulfil the hours) volunteer when others do not can be problematic.
There are so many worthwhile volunteering opportunities directed towards us to take up that it is hard to argue that the experience isn’t rather rewarding in and of itself at the end of the day.
However, there are so many worthwhile volunteering opportunities directed towards us to take up that it is hard to argue that the experience isn’t rather rewarding in and of itself at the end of the day. Perhaps we ought to be encouraging more students, not just Crankstart scholars, to volunteer and ‘escape the Oxford bubble’ for a couple of hours a week. For a start, it would do a lot of good in building up stronger town and gown connections. Yet if you remain unconvinced, and have an undying disdain towards, say, peeling vegetables for the local homeless community, then you can opt out of the career support benefits and just get the financial support with the Oxford bursary.
Yes, it would be nice to not be reliant on the philanthropy of wealthy businessmen in order to be able to afford my studies, but that is not the reality in which I currently exist. The Crankstart scholarship has made my time at this university undoubtedly much easier, has slightly alleviated the stress of looming student debt, and helped me to secure internships in my dream sectors. It was one of the main deciding factors for me when I was deciding whether to accept my Oxford offer.
For a couple of hours a week teaching maths to kids or handing out cups of tea to the homeless, I reckon that Crankstart is alright in the grand scheme of things.