Directing the Cambridge Commonwealth and Overseas Trusts

Michael O'Sullivan

"Cambridge is unusual and – I would say - fortunate in having, in the Cambridge Commonwealth and Overseas Trusts, a substantial foundation dedicated to raising funds for scholarships to support our international students. We focus on supporting students from outside the European Union, who are required by Government policy to pay much higher tuition fees than Home and EU students.

We are supporting well over 1,000 students at Cambridge each year, in all Colleges and Departments, some with full scholarships and others with partial funding to make a degree at Cambridge more affordable. The ideal that drives us is that Cambridge would like to enrol the best students in the world irrespective of their financial means. As Cambridge’s total financial endowment (University, Colleges and Trusts combined) is several times smaller than that of the wealthiest US universities, we need to be creative and flexible to move as far and as quickly as we can towards that ideal.

We do this at the Trusts by seeking out potential funding partners all over the world who are interested in helping us to support scholarship programmes at Cambridge. These partners include governments in emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and Mexico, multilateral agencies like the Islamic Development Bank, private charities, international companies, Cambridge alumni groups overseas, and private donors. Most of our partners do not just contribute to the costs of scholarships, they also help attract to Cambridge outstandingly talented people who might not otherwise apply to our University, whether because they underestimate their ability to get in or because they fear they could not afford to study here.

Some of our newest partnership programmes, in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, will support geographical diversification of the international student body at Cambridge. To take two other examples: a new programme of MPhil scholarships for Chinese students from economically under-privileged backgrounds, co-funded by the Agricultural Bank of China, and a fund-raising drive with our alumni societies in Canada, will help extend opportunities in countries where study at Cambridge is already popular, to include more of those unable to pay for study abroad.

I love both the variety of my job – a day may start with an early morning teleconference with Melbourne, and end with an evening exchange of ideas with Brasilia, and my travels take me to these and many more places – and the concrete results I can see when new students arrive in Cambridge each October. Take a look at our website if you would like to know more.

Being back in Cambridge after such a long time away, it is great to have a College connection at Wolfson. A moving if also eerie surprise after 23 years away was to find myself still featuring in a Boat Club photo in the Karen Spärck Jones room! You are always a Member of your Cambridge College."