Bursaries were of two kinds – competition bursaries and presentation bursaries. At the beginning of the period 1747-1897 the competition was by disputation; by the end it had become by written examination. However some bursary foundations contained a preference and these bursaries could be awarded on all sorts of considerations depending on conditions laid down in the founding documents. Preferences are a stronger element in the case of presentation bursaries in the hands of private patrons and although merit and need are concepts which keep recurring in the record, it was usually entirely a matter for the patron what weight need be applied to either. Otherwise the provisions of the founding documents might specify relatives of the founder, bearers of a certain surname or natives of a particular place or locality or pupils of a particular school. However the United College gradually insisted on vetting presentees for capability.
Need was usually more specifically addressed by the Colleges when they were disposing, as was their right, of moneys accrued from lapsed bursaries, that is those which for one reason or another did not run their full term. An almost predictable number failed to do so. Apart from the accidents of life, which caused bursaries to fall vacant, it is clear that possession of a bursary was often not sufficient to retain a student at University in competition with a tutoring or teaching opportunity. The introduction of Preliminary Examinations in 1892 greatly reduced external patrons’ ability to award bursaries on any other ground than merit and they tended with encouragement to surrender their rights in favour of the University. The record of the bursary competition examination indicates previous schooling from 1870.
All minuted bursary awards are listed, but it is also clear that some awards were not minuted. Note that two different bursaries awarded in the same session were almost certainly substitutions. It should be possible by careful collating of receipts within the University and College vouchers for accounts to complete some gaps.