On the matriculation of my final cohort...

On the matriculation of my final cohort...

Simon Lebus looks back at some stand-out winners of the OCR bursary as 2017's record number of high-achieving recipients, the final cohort he awarded as Group Chief Executive, start term.

Last week saw the start of term for winners of the 2017 OCR bursary, a scheme arising out of our historical association with the West Midlands Examinations Board and through which high achieving students from the West Midlands receive bursaries to provide some additional financial support while pursuing their undergradate studies at the University of Cambridge.

2017’s star students received their bursaries at a ceremony at OCR’s Coventry offices in mid-September and will this week be starting a range of degree courses, from Architecture to Philosophy, having completed their A Level studies at schools and colleges in Birmingham, Coventry, Rugby, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall, Nuneaton, Telford and Oswestry.

2017 bursary recipient pouind coin designerThis year’s applicants were of such high calibre that we were able to make a higher number of awards than in many previous years. All thirteen are not only high achievers academically but also have many other achievements to their name – one even won the competition to design the back of the new £1 coin (David Pearce, pictured left). Others have won Gold in the Senior Mathematics Challenge, written a novel and managed to have an essay published in a learned journal. All have also shown themselves to be good citizens through mentoring younger students and doing charity work locally and overseas. Many have overcome adversity and I hope the OCR bursary will go towards alleviating some of the financial pressures that can stand in the way of students making the most of their study and lives at Cambridge.

This was what Jason Quach (pictured below receiving his award) who will be studying Engineering referred to when he spoke of the “huge weight” off his shoulders upon learning he was to receive a bursary.


The first bursaries were awarded for the academic year 2004/5 and to date, 73 students who received an OCR bursary have successfully graduated, with a further 32 still studying. There have been some remarkable individual stories during this time. One of many remarkable recipients was a Red Cross volunteer from Bishop Walsh Catholic School, who was the first person in his school’s history to be offered a place to study medicine at Cambridge. 2012 was a stand-out year, with bursaries awarded to a student from Coventry who was the first female from her school to have achieved a place at the University of Cambridge since 1975 and another to Abdalla Abdalla from Cadbury College in Birmingham, who moved to the UK from war-torn Somalia ten years prior with no formal education. One of our 2016 winners recently went ‘viral’ as part of a campaign to encourage more black males to consider studying at Cambridge. Michael Samuelson-Beulah, who is now studying medicine, is pictured front row bottom left in the photograph below (credit to Oreoluwa Ogunbiyi/Cambridge ACS) accompanying this BBC news story. Another winner from that year wrote ‘home’ as it were last Christmas to let us know how their first term had gone, citing meeting Jonathan Dimbleby at BBC Radio 4's 'Any Questions' held at the Cambridge Union as a particular highlight!

Bursary 2017 blog Simon Lebus black males Cambridge BBC story image full width

It is just this sort of extra-curricular experience we hope the bursary frees up our winners to explore. Darius Potten-Ravenshad, another of our 2012 winners who will by now have completed his Engineering degree at Jesus College, reported back that the bursary had afforded him the freedom to be a part of the Formula Student Racing team, represent his College in numerous sports and also serve as Jesus College Engineering Society President. Other winners have also included a University Challenge team member.

It is in the nature of exam boards that there is little direct interaction with candidates. Exam boards are generally (all being well) respected rather than liked and the relationship tends to be somewhat instrumental. I have therefore always found it gratifying to be able to make these awards, partly for the personal pleasure of meeting some remarkable young people and hearing their stories, partly from knowing that the awards make a really positive contribution to award winners’ ability to enjoy their University education. Part of the excitement of being at University is the ability to engage in all the social and extra-curricular activities that are available, and what these awards do is give students some additional financial latitude to achieve that.

The 2017 Bursary Award winners, pictured at the top of the page, above front row from left to right, Natalie Chapman, Jason Quach, Simon Campbell Colwill, Ella Jones and David Pearce. Middle row: Daniel Williams-Ruiz, Soraya George, Rebecca Teagles and Natasha Rai. Back row: Triveni Patel and Alex Keir.

Simon Lebus
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

All about the OCR Bursary Scheme

Would you like to apply for an OCR bursary? Application forms for OCR’s 2018/19 Bursary Scheme will be published on the OCR website in Spring 2018.