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Varsity issue 827
TypeWeekly newspaper
Owner(s)Varsity Publications Ltd
Headquarters16 Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1RX
CirculationUp to 10,000[verification needed][1]

Varsity is the oldest of Cambridge University's main student newspapers. It has been published continuously since 1947 and is one of only three fully independent student newspapers in the UK. It moved back to being a weekly publication in Michaelmas 2015, and is published every Friday during term time.

Varsity has received recognition at the now defunct Guardian Student Media Awards.[2]


Varsity is one of Britain's oldest student newspapers.[3] Its first edition was published on 17 January 1931, as Varsity: the Cambridge University Illustrated[4] (later The Varsity Weekly, and then the Cambridge Varsity Post.[citation needed] However, the first few years saw Varsity get off to a shaky start. In 1932, a controversy about some of its stories resulted in the editor being challenged to a duel,[citation needed] and the following year the paper went bankrupt (having lost £100).[citation needed]


A variety of attempts to revive Varsity led to the paper resurfacing periodically over the following decade,[citation needed] but it was not until 1947 that the paper was re-established permanently in its current form. Harry Newman Jr (1921–2001), a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Business School, then studying for a postgraduate degree at St John's College, Cambridge, decided that Cambridge needed a proper American-style campus newspaper modelled on The Harvard Crimson.[5] With the post-war rationing of newsprint, only publications that had existed before the War could be allocated paper, and so the obsolete publication name Varsity was used.[citation needed]

In a letter published in Varsity at the end of the year 1971–1972, Harry Newman wrote,[6]

Varsity began over a bottle of sherry in John's, matured over a bottle of port in Caius and blossomed with a firkin of ale over the Victoria Cinema, where we pecked out the first issue on trestle tables (without chairs). / Several of us—Bill Watson (Professor of Social Anthropology), David Widdicombe (distinguished Q.C.), John Noonan (American Professor of Canon Law), Dave Reece (Canadian Diplomat), Bill Howell (prominent architect), and Geoffrey Neame, among others—felt that what the University needed, in addition to its latest organisation, Y.A.S. (Yet Another Society), was an American-style college newspaper. ... It was truly an international effort, British (all three), Canadian, American, Hungarian, and Indian.[This quote needs a citation]

Varsity's headquarters in 1947 was above the Scotch Hoose, "a restaurant at the corner of the Market and Market Street".[This quote needs a citation] Newman goes on to note that Geoffrey Neame, "a leading light among the Nightclimbers of Cambridge and the Gentlemen of Caius",[This quote needs a citation] was the first post-1947 layout editor. The first managing editor was the Scotsman "Wee Willie Watson", a former fighter pilot. On 19 April 1947, Varsity reappeared, its first issue headlining the coming visit of the then Princess Elizabeth to the university (a visit that ultimately would be cancelled). Its first print run was of 5,000 copies.[citation needed]


In the 1950s, Varsity's offices were in a former shop in St Edward's Passage, next door to the Arts Theatre. The second editor (after Newman) was David Widdicombe, a Queens' student who was also chairman of the Labour Club. In 1955, a one-off Oxford edition of the paper was produced by the then editor Michael Winner. Since then the paper has concentrated on the Cambridge audience.

In 1956, the staff, worried about debts, questioned Varsity's legal status. Solicitors were consulted, who advised that any debts arising from its considerable turnover (advertising income, printing costs etc.) or damages awarded for libel etc. would be the personal responsibility of the current editor. Varsity was promptly converted into a limited liability company – "Varsity Publications Ltd", with a share capital of £100. 50% of the shares were taken by the printers, 20% by the Don who was the senior treasurer and the rest, at £1 per head, by the staff at that time.


In the mid-1970s, Varsity merged with the radical campaigning student paper Stop Press. Thereafter, it was known as Stop Press with Varsity for several years, before reverting to its original title in the late 1980s.[citation needed]


Varsity moved back to being a weekly publication in Michaelmas 2015, after having been a fortnightly publication since Michaelmas 2012.[citation needed] Varsity is published every Friday during the University of Cambridge's term time, so there are 21 issues a year.

The Lent term editor also edits a single edition at the start of Easter term, and a separate editor controls a special edition May Week issue (or, in some years, daily May Week issues) at the end of the academic year.[citation needed]

Famous contributions

Notable contributors

Many of those who wrote for the paper during their student days have since gone on to achieve distinction in later life. Famous ex-editors include the former BBC news presenters Jeremy Paxman and David Frost, film director Michael Winner, the television presenter Richard Whiteley, former Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers, Independent editor Amol Rajan, i editor Oliver Duff, novelist Robert Harris, novelist and biographer Graham Lord, historian Jonathan Spence, Factory Records founder Tony Wilson and BBC1's EastEnders executive producer Matthew Robinson. International Herald Tribune fashion writer and author Suzy Menkes was the newspaper's first female editor. Some of Sylvia Plath's earliest poems and J. G. Ballard's first published story were written for the paper. Plath also posed in a bathing suit for an article she wrote about summer fashion-wear for the ladies. Meanwhile, comic Peter Cook met his first wife while posing for a Varsity May Ball photo shoot.

The paper has also launched the careers of many news journalists, including in recent times former Observer Political Editor Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian New York correspondent Oliver Burkeman, Guardian music critic Alexis Petridis, author and columnist Iain Hollingshead, Guardian columnist Archie Bland, Sunday Times columnist Charlotte Ivers,[7] the Independent's New York business correspondent Stephen Foley, The Sunday Times News Review Editor Martin Hemming, as well as former Independent columnist Johann Hari. The BBC and Evening Standard reporter Andrew Gilligan was once a news editor. Other notable contributors who have had later success in other fields include Michael Frayn, Germaine Greer, Clive James, Gavin Lyall, Robert Jenrick[8] and Charles III.

Some notable editors of the Varsity include Andrew Rawnsley (1983–4), Archie Bland (Michaelmas 2004), Amol Rajan (Lent 2005), Laura-Jane Foley (Lent 2004), and James Dacre (Michaelmas 2005).

Recent Editors[9]

Year Term Editor(s)
2024 Easter Alice Mainwood & Felix Armstrong
2024 Lent Daniel Hilton & Michael Hennessey
2023 Michaelmas Isabel Dempsey & Taneesha Datta
2023 Easter Hannah Gillott & Erik Olsson
2023 Lent Megan Byrom & Famke Veenstra-Ashmore
2022 Michaelmas Fergal Jeffreys & Jacob Freedland
2022 Easter Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle & Lotte Brundle
2022 Lent Emaan Ullah & Bethan Moss
2021 Michaelmas Nick Bartlett & Isabel Sebode
2021 Easter Meike Leonard & Elizabeth Hagh
2021 Lent Gaby Vides & Georgina Buckle
2020 Michaelmas Rich Bartlett
2020 Easter Caterina Bragoli & Gabriel Humphreys
2020 Lent Lottie Reeder & Jess Ma
2019 Michaelmas Maia Wyn Davies & Stephanie Stacey
2019 Easter Isobel Bickersteth
2019 Lent Vivienne Hopley-Jones & Catherine Lally
2018 Michaelmas Noella Chye
2018 Easter Anna Jennings
2018 Lent Daniel Gayne
2017 Michaelmas Elizabeth Howcroft & Patrick Wernham
2017 Easter Patrick Wernham
2017 Lent Millie Brierley
2016 Michaelmas Louis Ashworth & Callum Hale-Thomson
2016 Easter Eleanor Deeley
2016 Lent James Sutton
2015 Michaelmas Tom Freeman
2015 Lent Talia Zybutz
2014 Michaelmas Amy Hawkins
2014 Lent Emily Chan
2013 Michaelmas Alice Udale-Smith
2013 Lent Salome Wagaine & Aliya Ram
2012 Michaelmas Charlotte Keith
2012 Lent Louise Benson & Madeleine Morley
2011 Michaelmas Rhys Treharne & Laurie Martin
2011 Lent Alice Hancock & Lara Prendergast
2010 Michaelmas Joe Pitt-Rashid
2010 Lent Emma Mustich & Laurie Tuffrey
2009 Michaelmas Robert Peal & Anna Trench
2009 Lent Hugo Gye & Michael Stothard
2008 Michaelmas Patrick Kingsley
2008 Lent Tom Bird & George Grist
2007 Michaelmas Lizzie Mitchell & Elliot Ross
2007 Lent Joseph Gosden & Hermione Buckland-Hoby (Issue 1), Joseph Gosden & Natalie Woolman (Issue 2–9)
2006 Michaelmas Emily Stokes (Issues 1–2), Mary Bowers & Jonny Ensall (Issue 3–9)
2006 Lent Jon Swaine & Amy Goodwin
2005 Michaelmas James Dacre
2005 Lent Amol Rajan
2004 Michaelmas Archie Bland
2004 Lent Reji Vettasseri & Laura-Jane Foley
2003 Michaelmas Tom Ebbutt
2003 Lent Oliver Duff & Luke Layfield
2002 Michaelmas Katy Long
2002 Lent Rob Sharp
2001 Michaelmas Adam Joseph & Julian Blake
2001 Lent Tom Royston & Sarah Brealey
2000 Michaelmas Ed Hall
2000 Lent Jonti Small
1999 Michaelmas David Peter

Stories broken

Early years

Stories first revealed in Varsity have often gone on to receive coverage in the UK's national press. In May 1953, Varsity was only the third newspaper in the world to carry a report on James Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA, after the News Chronicle and The New York Times. The discovery was made in Cambridge on 28 February 1953; the first Watson/Crick paper appeared in Nature on 25 April 1953. Sir Lawrence Bragg, the director of the Cavendish Laboratory, where Watson and Crick worked, gave a talk at Guy's Hospital Medical School in London on 14 May 1953 which resulted in an article by Ritchie Calder in the News Chronicle of London, on 15 May 1953, entitled "Why You Are You. Nearer Secret of Life." The news reached readers of The New York Times the next day; Victor K. McElheny, in researching his biography, "Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution", found a clipping of a six-paragraph New York Times article written from London and dated 16 May 1953 with the headline "Form of 'Life Unit' in Cell Is Scanned." The article only ran in an early edition and was then pulled to make space for news deemed more important. Varsity ran its own 130-word front-page article on the discovery on 30 May 1953 under the headline "X-Ray Discovery".

Recent years

In recent years, reports to capture wider attention have included the leak of the name of Cambridge's latest vice-Chancellor, news about student protests concerning higher education funding, and a host of lighter reports about undergraduate excesses. In 2014 Varsity collaborated with Cambridge's Students' Union to survey the rate of sexual assault at the university; the findings of the survey,[10] attracted widespread attention from the national press.[11][12][13]

In July 2021, Varsity broke a national story regarding the university's proposed £400m deal with the United Arab Emirates.[14] Varsity journalists were then credited when the story was covered by The Times.[15] The news was later broken that the deal had been called off following revelations around the UAE's links to Pegasus spyware through an interview with Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope.[16] The story appeared on the front cover of The Guardian,[17] with Varsity journalists receiving writing credits.

Current organisation

Varsity is published by Varsity Publications Ltd, a not-for-profit company which directly funds The Varsity Trust,[18] a UK registered charity with the principal object of furthering the education of students in journalism.[19] The company also produces a number of other student publications such as The Mays—a collection of short stories and poems by Cambridge and Oxford students.[citation needed] The Mays have been published annually since 1992, and are most famous for launching the career of novelist Zadie Smith.[20] Her work appears in the 1996 and 1997 short story editions. These attracted the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract for her first novel. Smith decided to contact a literary agent and was taken on by A. P. Watt.[21] Smith returned to guest-edit the anthology in 2001.[22]

Advertising in Varsity has traditionally been seen as highly useful by graduate recruiters hoping to attract Cambridge students. As a result, the newspaper is able to distribute free copies to members of the university (without relying on student union funding),[citation needed] and was the first student newspaper in the UK to produce a colour section.[citation needed] Hence, Varsity's management and funding structure means that it is independent from both the university and Cambridge University Students' Union. In this respect it is unlike the vast majority of similar publications in other UK universities; the only other student newspapers to operate similarly are Oxford's Cherwell and The Oxford Blue, as well as The Saint of the University of St Andrews.[citation needed]

Unlike most student newspapers, the design of the newspaper is allowed to change radically with the arrival of new student editors.[citation needed]


20th century

For several consecutive years in the 1950s and 1960s the paper won the award for Britain's best student newspaper. (In the mid-1950s it was temporarily banned from entering for the award on grounds that it was "too professional" and other publications should be given a chance to win.)

21st century

In the 2001 Guardian Student Media Awards it was shortlisted in two categories for best feature writer (Rend Shakir) and best student critic (Alex Marshall) It was successful in the 2004 Guardian Student Media Awards where it won the prize for best columnist (Archie Bland) and came runner-up in best sports writer category (Sam Richardson).[23] In 2005 Varsity writer Sam Richardson won the Guardian's Student Diversity Writer of the Year award.[24]

In 2006, Sophie Pickford was the runner-up for best sports writer of the year.[25]

In 2007, Varsity won the Guardian Student Media Awards' Student Publication Design of the Year.[26]

Varsity won six prizes at the Guardian Student Media Awards in November 2009, over a third of the prizes in session, was nominated for a further two, and former editor Patrick Kingsley was named Student Journalist of the Year. Michael Stothard won in the Best Reporter category; Zing Tsjeng was the Best Feature Writer; Ben Riley-Smith was Best Sports Reporter; while Charlotte Runcie was awarded Best Columnist, with Rob Peal runner-up.[27][needs update]

Current board and staff

Varsity has a board of directors made up of university academics, long-term associates of the newspaper, and student members.[citation needed] As of March 2022, the chairman is Mike Franklin.[18]

Varsity's editors are not paid, but their work is supported by a full-time business manager and company secretary (responsible for sourcing advertising to fund the publications, running the office on a day-to-day basis, finance, accounts, tax and administration). The current business manager and company secretary is Mark Curtis.

Varsity is now based at the Old Examination Hall on the New Museums Site in the former Godwin Laboratory. Previously, Varsity was based at 11–12 Trumpington Street. The newspaper's move from this "temporary" home, to the new offices, occurred in August 2007, after a 16-year tenancy.


  1. ^ Varsity Staff (24 March 2017). "About Varsity". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  2. ^ Freddy Mayhew (2010). "Guardian cancels student media awards to save costs". Press Gazette.
  3. ^ "About Varsity | Varsity". Varsity Online. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  4. ^ Hooke Library Staff (2010). "Bibliographic record for Varsity". Cambridge University Library.
  5. ^ Starr, Kevin (1995). "Judge John T. Noonan, Jr.: A Brief Biography". Journal of Law and Religion. 11 (1): 151–176. doi:10.2307/1051628. JSTOR 1051628. S2CID 159824444.
  6. ^ Newman, Harry (1972). "[Title unknown]". Varsity (Spring).
  7. ^ "Somebody Else's Cambridge". Varsity Online.
  8. ^ "Varsity, March 2004" (PDF). Varsity. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  9. ^ "About Varsity | Varsity". Varsity Online. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  10. ^ Elwell, Martha & Wilkinson, Hannah (25 April 2014). "88% of Sexual Assaults Unreported". Retrieved 24 March 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Sanghani, Radhika (28 April 2014). "One in six Cambridge University students groped, but they're too 'ashamed' to report it, study finds". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  12. ^ Hurst, Greg (17 May 2014). "Half Cambridge's female students sexually harassed". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  13. ^ Page, Libby; Young-Powell, Abby (2 May 2014). "Sexual harassment: the campus issue that won't go away". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Documents reveal proposed £400 million collaboration between University of Cambridge and United Arab Emirates".
  15. ^ "University of Cambridge in talks over UAE tie-up".
  16. ^ "'It's a privilege to be at the helm of an institution so important': An exclusive interview with Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope".
  17. ^ "Cambridge University halts £400m deal with UAE over Pegasus spyware claims". 14 October 2021.
  18. ^ a b Varsity Trust Staff (24 March 2017). "The Varsity Trust". Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  19. ^ Wales, The Charity Commission for England and. "About Charities". Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  20. ^,12084,1560999,00.html "Learning Curve," The Guardian, 3 September 2005
  21. ^ "AP Watt". Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  22. ^ "The Mays XIX: Guest Editors". Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  23. ^ Harris, Rob (15 November 2004). "Student Media Awards 2004". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  24. ^ Guardian Staff (2 November 2005). "Student Media Awards 2005". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  25. ^ Guardian Staff (9 November 2006). "Student Media Awards 2006". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  26. ^ Guardian Staff (26 November 2007). "Student Media Awards 2007". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  27. ^ Guardian Staff (26 November 2009). "Guardian Student Media Awards, 2009: Winners". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 May 2010.