College uses pub's profits to 'reach the places other awards cannot reach'

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The Independent Online

Nestled beside a cobbled alleyway at the heart of Oxford University, the Lamb and Flag has served generations of students, writers, professors and even the odd future prime minister. C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien spent long afternoons in its cosy surroundings, sipping warm beer as they mulled over the development of their latest novels.

Graham Greene enjoyed his nights sat in the 500-year-old tavern enough to mention it in his memoirs, while more recently it has featured in episodes of Inspector Morse.

Now students who huddle in its small rooms under oak-beamed ceilings are discovering that the pints of Guinness they clutch really are good for them. Faced with drastic cuts in government funding, an Oxford college has reversed the student stereotype and started using beer money to pay for degrees.

St John's, the nearby college which owns the pub, puts the profits from every drink bought at the pub towards special awards, each worth up to £12,000 a year, for graduates completing PhDs.

Dons launched the Lamb and Flag scholarships when they took over the bar's licence after decades of leasing it to a local brewery for a minimal return. College officials boast that the new pub scholarships "reach the places other awards cannot reach" by funding research no longer sponsored by government bodies such as the British Academy.

A St John's College spokes- man said: "You could say they help satisfy the continued thirst for knowledge among graduates studying the arts and humanities. These days, even those with seemingly impeccable academic credentials and brilliantly original research proposals are regularly turned down flat [from receiving sponsorship]."

It is a bitter reflection on the education policy of Tony Blair, who is thought to have enjoyed the odd pint in the Lamb and Flag while a student at St John's in the Seventies. Nor would the irony be lost on Thomas Hardy, who used the bar as the setting for parts of Jude the Obscure, his classic tale of a poor boy who has his academic dreams thwarted by a lack of funds and the snobbery of Oxford dons.

This year's three Lamb and Flag scholars will have all their fees paid for, plus £9,000 annual living expenses, until they complete their PhDs.

The college is confident the pub's profits, currently around £50,000 a year, will enable it to sponsor a new batch of students every year. But getting one of the awards is far harder than fighting to the front of the bar on a busy night. There were 75 applications for the three scholarships this year.

Tom Chatfield, 23, said that without the Lamb and Flag award he would have been forced to abandon academia.

He said: "It's a shame things have got so desperate that the college has to rely on a pub's takings, though it is an inspired idea." But Mr Chatfield said that, unlike most of his peers, he has yet to visit the Lamb and Flag. "I'm not a big drinker," he confessed. "I hope the bursar doesn't find out what a bad student I am."