Jesus College is pleased to announce the creation of a new bursary scheme that will provide much-needed financial support for Welsh undergraduate students. The Michael Sheen Bursary has been developed in collaboration with, and is generously supported by, eminent Welsh actor and activist Michael Sheen, and will support students from across Wales.

Michael Sheen
Michael Sheen, actor and activist, is supporting a new bursary for Welsh undergraduate students at Jesus College. 

Recipients of the Michael Sheen Bursary will be means-tested, based primarily on household income criteria. Economic inequity is a known barrier to Welsh school students pursuing courses in leading universities, and a barrier that Jesus College, and the University more broadly, is working hard to overcome.

The Michael Sheen Bursary is an exciting, positive step forward for the College, which already delivers a wide range of access and outreach activities for young people in Wales. In 2020, the College (in partnership with St Catherine’s College and New College) took responsibility for delivering Access and Outreach programmes for the whole of Wales on behalf of the University of Oxford; a consortium called Oxford Cymru. The consortium has been working closely with the Welsh Government to expand its reach – especially in the largely rural and coastal communities of mid and North Wales which experience the greatest disparities in educational attainment. 

About 70% of the 10,000 young people we work with annually come from Wales, the majority of whom are from underrepresented white British communities. In partnership with the Welsh Government’s Seren Network, which supports Wales’ brightest year 8-13 students from state schools and FE colleges, the College delivers the flagship Seren Summer School programme for hundreds of Welsh school students each year. Last year, the programme was secured in perpetuity by the fantastic generosity of an endowment from a Jesus alumnus.

Data shows that such innovative programmes are having an impact. There has been a 20% increase in applications from Welsh state schools to Oxford, and a 55% increase in admissions from 2016-2020. In 2019/20, ten percent of all applications from Welsh students to Oxford came from Seren Summer School participants. 

However, there is still much work to be done to support Welsh students during their time at Jesus College. Dr Alexandra Lumbers, Academic Director, says,

"Our access programmes are going a long way in encouraging and enabling academically gifted young people from Wales to come to the University, but disadvantaged students can face financial inequalities that create a barrier to embracing the full benefit that an Oxford education can offer.  The Michael Sheen Bursary will provide a tremendous opportunity to support Welsh students at Jesus College, making their experience more equitable, and reassuring them that Oxford is for everyone, regardless of background.”

Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt FRS, Jesus College Principal, says,

“We are proud of our strong historical connection with the people of Wales, and the huge progress that has been made both within Jesus College and the wider University to encourage and support Welsh students to apply to Oxford. The Michael Sheen Bursary will drive this work forward and demonstrates a continued commitment to providing access and equity for all. We are hugely grateful to Michael for this generous support, which will positively impact the lives and futures of some of our more disadvantaged Welsh students.” 

Michael says,

Where you come from and the financial circumstances of your background should not be a barrier to those of talent and excellence receiving much needed support and development. Jesus College, Oxford has had a long and fruitful relationship to Wales since its founding in 1571 and it gives me great pleasure to use what resources I have to help young Welsh students of real potential get the opportunities for learning there that they deserve as much as anyone else. I hope that these bursaries not only make it possible for Welsh students to take advantage of the educational possibilities at Jesus but also help to encourage a sense of what is possible for young Welsh people generally.”

Applications for the first round of Michael Sheen bursaries will open in Michaelmas term 2021. Incoming Welsh undergraduate students will be prioritised. The Michael Sheen Bursary is not restricted to a specific number of students per annum. Each student who applies for funding will have to meet the eligibility criterion, which is based on an aggregate household income of under £35,000 pa. The value of each bursary will be dependent on each student’s specific circumstances and go towards their living costs.     

LISTEN HERE as Michael talks about his education and early career, and the people who supported him along the way.