Churchill alumnus Rob Douglas (U67) and his wife Hilary have recently made a significant donation to the College to endow the Rob and Hilary Douglas Cambridge Bursary, an annual bursary for undergraduate students studying arts subjects at the College.
Rob and Hilary’s motivation for directing their bursary support at arts students stems from their own experiences — both whilst studying at Cambridge (Hilary studied History at New Hall) and in their subsequent careers which he came to talk to me about on a sunny day this autumn.
Rob grew up in the north east of England in Newcastle and was at school in Edinburgh when Dick Tizard visited the school as part of his efforts to broaden Churchill’s intake. Persuaded to apply, Rob secured a place and arrived in October 1967 to read history. He quickly settled in to what he recalls was a hugely rewarding and stimulating environment; ‘ to have the exposure to people who are world class is just so broadening, so stimulating, it really opens your mind’. He completed History Part 1 before switching to Anglo Saxon, Norse and Celtic for Part II, something that he thinks was a bit of a shock to the College at the time, ‘I don’t think they’d had anybody study ASNAC before’ but he recalls receiving a lot of support from the librarian who enjoyed sourcing the books he needed!
Both Rob and Hilary had very little idea of what they wanted to do when they left University. They went to the careers service on Chaucer Road where the adviser suggested to Hilary she could be a librarian and to Rob he could be an archivist. They initially went along with that and Hilary went to Chatham House whilst Rob completed a post grad diploma in the Study of Records and Administration of Archives at the University of Liverpool. But they both soon decided this was not their future. Hilary joined the graduate scheme for the Civil Service, and Rob followed when he saw how stimulating she was finding it. Rather to his surprise he found himself joining the Inland Revenue to be trained as a tax Inspector.
Rob and Hilary are clear about the challenges that students now face in the current funding climate. As a Board member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from 2008–2013 he was in post when all the funding changes were coming through and quickly realised the degree of debt that people were going to have to take on. This experience has motivated Rob and Hilary to set up their bursary in the hope that it would ‘make a difference, if only to one or two people, giving them access to an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have ‘. They also feel conscious there may still be a feeling in some areas, schools and families that an Oxbridge education is not open to all. They want to do their bit to break down those barriers.
Rob and his wife hope that their approach to funding support for students at Churchill will inspire other arts students to come to the College rather than ruling it out as option because of the large scientific community. ‘Arts people coming to Churchill shouldn’t feel the sense of being in a minority because there are a lot of them and they have a chance to interact with a much wider group of people, people whose subjects they need to have some understanding of for their future.’
Reflecting on the decision that he and Hilary made to set up the bursary, they are hopeful that their decision to support student need may inspire other alumni who also benefited from their time at Churchill to offer their support. Every donation, no matter how small will make a huge difference when added together.