On June 1, the Rhodes Scholarship announced its largest expansion in the program’s 113-year history.
The scholarships cover postgraduate study at the University of Oxford and will now be available to students from Ghana, Nigeria, Malaysia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian territories.
“Our aspiration is to identify and support innovative, energetic and ethical young leaders globally,” the warden of Rhodes House Charles Conn said. “The addition of these new Scholars from regions that have an important international role to play in the twenty-first century marks a substantial step in that direction.”
The program is also adding four more scholarships for Chinese students, increasing the number of scholarships awarded annually from 83 to 95. This raises the number of Rhodes Scholars studying at Oxford from around 220 to 250. Oxford has over 22,600 students, 10,499 of whom are postgraduates according to the university’s website.
“Studying at Oxford can be prohibitively expensive for students coming from outside of the UK or the EU,” 2016 College graduate and Rhodes recipient Jenna Hebert said. Hebert was one of two Penn students awarded the scholarship last year. “Adding scholarship recipients from these countries will add both ethnic and, hopefully, socioeconomic diversity to the Rhodes community and to Oxford.”
“I think it is important for Rhodes scholars to interact with people from many different backgrounds, particularly from countries that are in serious conflict like these, to gain a truly global perspective,” Hebert said. “The Rhodes experience is as much about forming relationships with people from different backgrounds as it is about the academic experience.”
The Rhodes Scholarship was established in 1903 and initially awarded scholarships to 57 students each year. This included 20 for students from specific parts of the British Empire and later the Commonwealth, 32 for American students and five for students from Germany.
According to the Rhodes Trust website, in awarding scholarships, the selection committee looks for students who demonstrate “outstanding intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service.” Each scholarship is worth about $79,000 per year.
“I wanted to get more experience in neuropsychiatry research, study abroad and travel, and continue to compete as a competitive rower,” Hebert said. “Studying at Oxford provided the opportunity to do all of these, so the Rhodes was the perfect package,” Hebert said.
The scholarships last for two to three years and cover tuition, university and college fees, a personal stipend and economy class airfare for two flights — one to Oxford at the beginning of the scholarship and one to the student’s home country at the end of their study. The scholarships are not awarded based on financial need.
The Rhodes Trust also announced a $108 million partnership with the Atlantic Philanthropies, an international time-limited organization founded by Charles F. Feeney. The Rhodes Trust will collaborate with Atlantic Fellows programs to set up the Atlantic Institute at Rhodes House, a gathering place for Atlantic Fellows, who are distinguished leaders, thinkers, activists, scholars, government officials, writers and experts. The partnership will also create a new award, the Rhodes Fellowship, to support mid-career professionals with projects.
The scholarship program and trust are named after Cecil Rhodes, who endowed them in his will. Rhodes was a nineteenth century British imperialist, businessman and politician who promoted British superiority and helped institute white minority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). He has recently been the subject of much controversy and scrutiny, especially through the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement, which started at the University of Cape Town in March 2015 and spread to other institutions, including Oxford.
However, the changes to the scholarship were not meant to confront or diminish these concerns.
“The trust wasn’t set up to be the guardian of Cecil Rhodes’ political legacy, but to identify really talented people to fight the world’s fights,” Conn told The New York Times.
“We’re about Rhodes Scholars,” he said. “We’re not about this historical character — any more than Nobel prizes are about Alfred Nobel, who was an arms manufacturer,” Conn said.
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