The MacQuitty Prize

You’ve just finished your undergraduate degree and graduation is only weeks away. You open an email: as top performing student, you've won the MacQuitty Prize, worth £10,000 – with no strings attached. What would you do with it? Would it change your life? Josie Jolley (Geography 2014) shares her extraordinary story.

Student who was awarded the £10,000 prize

A pivotal moment

“I’d been homeless for five and a half years when I applied for university. I was tired of sleeping in hostels, public toilets, people's attics, on spare sofas and floors. Nobody wants to employ a homeless teenager and boredom was kept at bay only by fear.

On the precipice of giving in to overwhelming desperation and alienation, I began my Geography BA at Sussex. The monumental impact the Geography department has rendered on my life is inexpressible. They have stoked the flames of an all-consuming desire to continue learning, and so winning the MacQuitty Prize is all the more significant because it offers both a promise and a pivotal turning point.

It is a promise to follow this passion. It holds the economic security to pursue a PhD unreservedly, without distraction. Throughout my undergraduate degree, studying shared a precarious timetable with three simultaneous part-time jobs. Now, however, my work need not be stacking supermarket shelves at 4am or cleaning student rooms; it can be what I love. It is a privilege beyond all imagining to stand on this threshold, knowing that I can now give myself unconditionally to studying, researching and learning.

It is also a pivotal moment. It will never be a case of ‘then and now’; homelessness and the fear of returning to it will forever haunt everything I do. The difference is that this prize marks those years as worthwhile. Who I am, who I want to be, draws from those experiences. I would love to pursue a career in academia – to share knowledge, to be challenged daily, to listen to the voices and stories people have to tell about themselves and their worlds. Receiving this award is testimony to the importance of that work, those voices. Above all else, winning the MacQuitty Prize affords me the confidence and courage to continue listening to them.”

I’d been homeless for five and a half years when I applied for university.Josie Jolley
Geography 2014

Generations of kindness

In 1884, Dr Jonathan MacQuitty’s great-uncle William won a university prize of several hundred pounds for being top among the First Class Honours students studying for a BA in Experimental Science. When he died, the legacy of that one gift passed down the generations to Jonathan, helping support him as he studied for a DPhil in Chemistry at Sussex in the 1970s.

Continuing that legacy, in 2008 Jonathan established the MacQuitty prize for top performing science students, with a desire to allow the winner more financial flexibility in deciding what to do after graduation: “The choice of what to do with the proceeds is left entirely to the prize winner. It could be used to start a business, to donate to charity, to travel, to purchase something.”

Ten years later, thanks to Jonathan’s generosity, the MacQuitty Prize for Science was endowed in perpetuity to ensure that many more students will benefit in years to come.

He also funded the establishment of the annual MacQuitty Prize for the Humanities and Social Sciences. And, in 2018, Josie Jolley became the first recipient.

Dr Jonathan MacQuitty

Did you win a prize at Sussex?

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