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Professor Mary Beard’s ‘retirement present’ will fund Cambridge Classics students from under-represented backgrounds

Cambridge historian Professor Mary Beard will help fund two Classics students from under-represented groups as part of efforts to encourage more diversity among those studying the subject at the university.

Mary Beard's Shock of the Nude. Picture at the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge (C) Lion Television Ltd. Picture: Polly Alderton
Mary Beard's Shock of the Nude. Picture at the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge (C) Lion Television Ltd. Picture: Polly Alderton

The £80k gift will pay the £10k-a-year living costs of two undergraduates who are from both an under-represented minority ethnic group and a low-income home for the full duration of their degree course. The award will be available from the start of the 2021/22 academic year in October.

Professor Beard, who will retire at the end of 2022 after almost 40 years teaching at the University of Cambridge, said the gift – the Joyce Reynolds Award, named in honour of one of her own, pioneering, Classics tutors – is ‘payback’ for everything Classics has given her, as a student and an academic.

“It’s a retirement present from me,” said Professor Beard. “I am very conscious of what I’ve gained from Classics; no one from my family had a university degree. This subject has been my livelihood, it’s given me the opportunity to do lots of things – and it’s paid my mortgage for 40 years!”

As well as offering practical support to the students who receive it, Professor Beard said her gift is symbolic of the Faculty of Classic’s commitment to attracting diverse applicants, alongside its schools outreach programmes and its four-year (rather than the usual three-year) Classics course which offers a preliminary year for students with little or no Latin.

Professor Mary Beard
Professor Mary Beard

“It’s a pledge, that we really do want people from more diverse backgrounds to study Classics. Classics is a subject that has changed, is changing, but needs to change more.

"We’ve done a lot of work in saying that you don’t have to have Latin and Greek before you come, you can learn it here, that this isn’t just for posh people who’ve done Latin for ages. But you still walk around the Faculty and it looks – although not entirely – very white.

“I have no illusion that giving a couple of scholarships is the solution, but it’s a way of showing we’re serious about equality of opportunity. And if it makes the difference in someone choosing to study here that might otherwise not, if it makes inroads into any anxiety they might understandably have about financing their course, then it’s worth it."

Professor Beard added: “Classicists go on to get very good jobs. Our students are extremely smart, extremely motivated, intellectually able and flexible. They’re trained to think hard, to express themselves, to write well – qualities that a hell of a lot of employers are looking for.

"The idea that the only way of being certain of getting a good job is to take a professional, vocational qualification is just untrue. Classics hasn’t made me rich, but I’ve written popular books and I’ve made television programmes and it’s brought me more than I expected or hoped. And I think it’s payback time.”

Read more:

Newnham College's Prof Mary Beard says she is '100% delighted' to be made a dame in Queen's Birthday Honours

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