Is Stormzy’s effect on Cambridge applications sustainable?

The Stormzy Scholarship at Cambridge has been a hot talking point since it was announced in August 2018. It makes more sense to measure what’s been said about it in column metres rather than column inches.

The incentive, in short, was started by the rapper to address inequalities in the UK’s university system which put BME students at a disadvantage. Naturally, as institutions steeped in ‘tradition’, elitism, and by extension, systemic racism, BME Oxbridge students feel this the hardest. Stormzy’s scholarship offers to cover living and tuition costs for two BME Cambridge students per year. For the 2019-20 year, the award amounts to £18,000.

It can’t be stressed enough just how important the mere existence of Stormzy’s scholarship is. While the award is only given to two lucky students, its existence promotes a strong BME presence at Cambridge and has encouraged more BME students to apply. For the issue of racism and colourism actually at Cambridge is only half the problem – the other half is the barriers facing students of colour pre-application.

Cambridge University itself has stated that this ‘Stormzy effect’ has meant that more black students than ever before are applying – and successfully applying – to the institution. But how long will the ‘Stormzy effect’ last? Will the Stormzy Scholarship itself last? Is it not slightly uncomfortable that Cambridge is praising Stormzy when they’re the ones with the power to actually change the way the institution is run? When they’re the ones who are (partly) responsible for why the scholarship is even necessary in the first place?

The Stormzy Scholarship, in my eyes, is a wholly positive thing. But to say that it has singlehandedly solved the problems surrounding race at Cambridge would be to undermine the struggles still faced by BME students at the institution. The future of the scholarship is uncertain, as is whether its effects will turn out to be truly long-lasting. But one thing is sure – the scholarship is a milestone. The experiences of BME students at Cambridge are only improving, and while there are sure to be setbacks and the fight for true equality isn’t easy, it is fair to say that that things are looking up – and the Stormzy scholarship is testament to this.

Image: University of Cambridge

Serena Smith

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