Generous support from the Reuben Foundation is helping to ensure the brightest students can come to Oxford, regardless of their financial circumstances.

‘When I found out I’d got a scholarship I was just so over the moon,’ says Kate Bickerton, who studied History at Oxford from 2014 until 2017. ‘Money worries had been a very significant part of my life growing up and the scholarship meant that for at least three years I wouldn’t have to think about my finances; I would have the freedom to just enjoy being a student.’

Kate is one of more than 270 people to have received support through the Reuben Scholarship Programme since it was established for disadvantaged undergraduate students at Oxford in 2012. Reuben Scholars receive a bursary for living costs as well as contributions towards their academic fees, ensuring they are able to take up their place at the University free from financial worry.

Kate Bickerton, Reuben Scholar 2014–17. <a href="">Photo by Ria Dinsdale</a>

Kate describes the scholarship she received as a ‘real leveller’, opening up opportunities that might otherwise have been unavailable to her. As such, she took advantage of every offer that arose: she tried her hand at student drama, wrote for student newspapers and learned how to row – something Kate says is still an important part of her life now: ‘I’m a qualified rowing coach and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity had it not been for my scholarship.’

She was also able to indulge her passion for the ancient world by traveling during her summer breaks. ‘I got to study women’s development in Beijing for two weeks as part of the Experiencing China Programme,’ explains Kate. ‘The scholarship helped me to fund my flights, which was the only thing not included in the programme. It meant that I could go and have that incredible experience, which really instilled in me a lifelong interest in Chinese history.'

I fully immersed myself. I really took advantage of every opportunity and I’m really appreciative that I was able to do that.Kate Bickerton

The positive impact of the Reuben Scholarship on Kate’s time at Oxford is undeniable; it is also, happily, something that many more students will have the opportunity to experience in the future. In June 2020 the Reuben Foundation made an £80 million donation towards Oxford’s first new college in 30 years. The landmark gift will also be used the expand the foundation’s existing support for undergraduate students, as well as fund a major new scholarship programme for graduates.

Eli Aizikowitz received a Reuben Scholarship in 2019 while studying at Oxford for an MPhil in Greek and Roman History. At the time he was one of only three graduate students to have received such support from the foundation – a number that will increase dramatically under the new programme.

Eli Aizikowitz, Reuben Scholar 2019–20

A former musician, Eli came to academia later in life and credits his time at Oxford with helping him grow as a ‘scholar in training.’ He explains: ‘I developed a much better sense of how to ask historical questions, how to better frame problems and to address them in a more independent fashion. There’s some distinction between writing history versus actually trying to deal with the nature of society, economy, law, and so on, but I learned that the best historical questions reveal something about these theoretical issues by exposing the differences and similarities between the past and present. I definitely feel as though I grew a lot as a thinker.’

Eli says that being in a place where there is a ‘critical mass of people working on very interesting things’ was incredibly beneficial to his studies. He attended talks and seminars, formed valuable connections with other scholars and presented his work at several conferences – something that had been an early goal for him. ‘It’s kind of like your first musical performance,’ laughs Eli. ‘I was a bit nervous for it, but hey, it was great!’

The programme allows you to do a lot of independent research and discover problems for yourself, which has been a very important experience for me.Eli Aizikowitz

Had it not been for the support he received from the Reuben Foundation, Eli says it would have been ‘quite simply impossible’ for him to have accepted his place at Oxford. ‘It enabled me to focus on my academic pursuits exclusively, and I’m very thankful for that,’ he adds.

While Eli has now progressed on to doctoral study at Harvard University, Kate decided to pursue a life outside academia after graduating. She is currently working for the Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre, which supports women and girls across the county who have been affected by sexual violence and rape. ‘I feel like I am able to make such a difference to the lives of survivors,’ she says. ‘It’s a very fulfilling job.’

On her decision to work at the charity, Kate notes: ‘The scholarship really made me feel differently about my degree, and instilled in me the importance of giving back. When I was thinking about what I wanted do with my life, I really wanted it to be something with meaning and value; to commit myself to helping and supporting others. That’s why I applied.’

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