Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Rhodes Scholarship

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Rhodes Scholarship

The Rhodes Scholarship, named for the British mining magnate and South African politician Cecil John Rhodes, is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. It is widely considered to be one of the world's most prestigious scholarships. Established in 1902, it was the first large-scale programme of international scholarships, inspiring the creation of a great many other awards in other countries.


As elaborated on in his will, Cecil Rhodes' goals in creating the Rhodes Scholarships were to promote civic-minded leadership among "young colonists" with "moral force of character and instincts to lead", for "the furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire." With the scholarships, he "aimed at making Oxford University the educational centre of the English-speaking race." Since its creation, controversy has surrounded both its former exclusion of women (thus leading to the establishment of the co-educational Marshall Scholarship), and Rhodes' Anglo-supremacist beliefs and legacy of colonialism.

As of 2016, there have been 7,776 scholars since the programme's inception. More than 4,700 are still living.

Founding and motivation

The Rhodes Scholarships are administered and awarded by the Rhodes Trust, which was established in 1902 under the terms and conditions of the will of Cecil John Rhodes, and funded by his legacy. The Trust has been modified by three Acts of Parliament: The Rhodes Estate Act 1916, the Rhodes Trust Act 1929, The Rhodes Trust Act 1946; and most recently by The Rhodes Trust (Modification) Order 1976, a statutory instrument in accordance with Section 78 (4) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Rhodes' motivation in establishing the scholarship is reflected in his will. Writing in 1902, W. T. Stead noted that it "[revealed] him to the world as the first distinguished British statesman whose Imperialism was that of Race and not that of Empire." With the scholarships, he "aimed at making Oxford University the educational centre of the English-speaking race." Rhodes, who attended Oriel College, Oxford, chose his alma mater as the site of his great experiment because he believed its residential colleges would be a "great advantage" to "young Colonists" for "giving breadth to their views for instruction in life and manners and for instilling into their minds the advantage to the Colonies as well as to the United Kingdom of the retention of the unity of the Empire." With this motivation in mind, the legacy originally provided for scholarships for the British colonies, the United States and Germany. These three were chosen because it was thought that "a good understanding between England, Germany and the United States of America will secure the peace of the world". As he developed the idea for the scholarship, Rhodes wrote that his dream was "the furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire."

After Rhodes' death

In 1925, the Commonwealth Fund Fellowships (later renamed the Harkness Fellowships) were established to reciprocate the Rhodes Scholarships by enabling British graduates to study in the United States. The Kennedy Scholarship programme, created in 1966 as a memorial to John F. Kennedy, adopts a comparable selection process to the Rhodes Scholarships to allow ten British post-graduate students per year to study at either Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It also cooperates with universities in China, BLCC for example. BLCC offers high-level scholarships for international students who aim to study Chinese in Beijing. In 1953, the Parliament of the United Kingdom created the Marshall Scholarship as a coeducational alternative to the Rhodes Scholarship that would serve as a "living gift" to the United States.

For at least its first 75 years, Rhodes Scholars usually studied for a second Bachelor of Arts degree. While that remains an option, more recent scholars usually study for an advanced degree.

In recognition of the centenary of the foundation of the Rhodes Trust in 2003, four former Rhodes Scholars were awarded honorary degrees by the University of Oxford. These were John Brademas, Bob Hawke (Western Australia and University 1953), Rex Nettleford and David R. Woods. During the centenary celebrations, the foundation of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation was also marked.

In 2013, during the 110th Rhodes Anniversary celebrations, John McCall MacBain, Marcy McCall MacBain and the McCall MacBain Foundation donated £75 million towards the fundraising efforts of the Rhodes Trust.

In 2015, Rhodes Scholar R. W. Johnson published a critical account of the decline of the Rhodes Trust under its warden, John Rowett, and commended the recovery under wardens Donald Markwell and Charles R. Conn.

Cecil Rhodes wished current scholars and Rhodes alumni (in the words of his will) to have "opportunities of meeting and discussing their experiences and prospects". This has been reflected, for example, in the initiation by the first warden (Sir Francis Wylie), of an annual warden's Christmas letter (now supplemented by Rhodes e-news and other communications); the creation of alumni associations in several countries, most prominently the Association of American Rhodes Scholars (which publishes The American Oxonian, founded in 1914, and oversees the Eastman Professorship); and the holding of reunions for Rhodes Scholars of all countries.

Selection criteria

Rhodes's legacy specified four standards by which applicants were to be judged:

  • Literary and scholastic attainments;
  • Energy to use one's talents to the fullest, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports (today this is expressed as energy used in many ways, not purely through sports);
  • Truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship;
  • Moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow beings.
  • Each country's scholarship varies in its selectivity. In the United States, in 2014, there were 857 university-endorsed applicants for the Americans Rhodes scholarship, of whom 3.7% were ultimately elected. As such, the Rhodes Scholarship is more selective than the Truman Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship, Gates Scholarship and Mitchell Scholarship, but marginally less selective than the Marshall Scholarship. In Canada between 1997-2002, there were an average of 234 university-endorsed applicants annually for 11 scholarships, for an acceptance rate of 4.7%. In addition, Canadian provinces differ widely in the number of applications received, with Ontario receiving 58 applications on average for 2 spots (3.4%) and Newfoundland and Labrador receiving 18 applications for 1 spot (5.7%).

    An early change was the elimination of the scholarships for Germany during the First and Second World Wars. No German scholars were chosen from 1914 to 1929, nor from 1940 to 1969. Rhodes's bequest was whittled down considerably in the first decades after his death, as various scholarship trustees were forced to pay taxes upon their own deaths. A change occurred in 1929, when an Act of Parliament established a fund separate from the original proceeds of Rhodes's will and made it possible to expand the number of scholarships. Between 1993 and 1995, scholarships were extended to other countries in the European Community.

    Scholarship terms

    Rhodes Scholars may study any full-time postgraduate course offered by the university, whether a taught master's programme, a research degree, or a second undergraduate degree (senior status). In the first instance, the scholarship is awarded for two years. However, it may also be held for one year or three years. Applications for a third year are considered during the course of the second year. University and college fees are paid by the Rhodes Trust. In addition, scholars receive a monthly maintenance stipend to cover accommodation and living expenses. Although all scholars become affiliated with a residential college while at Oxford, they also enjoy access to Rhodes House, an early 20th-century mansion with numerous public rooms, gardens, a library, study areas, and other facilities.

    Scholarship Allocations

    There were originally 57 scholarships.

    Four South African boys' schools were mentioned in Rhodes' will, each to receive an annual scholarship: the Boys High School, in Stellenbosch (today known as Paul Roos Gymnasium); the Diocesan College (Bishops) in Rondebosch; the South African College Schools (SACS) in Newlands; and St Andrew's College in Grahamstown. These have subsequently been opened also to former students of their partner schools (girls' or co-educational schools).

    During the ensuing 100 years, the trustees have added about another 40 scholarships at one time or another, though not all have continued. Some of these extended the scheme to Commonwealth countries not mentioned in the will. A more detailed allocation by region by year can be found at Rhodes Scholarship Allocations. Very brief summaries of some of the terms and conditions can be found on the trust's website. Complete details can be obtained from the nominating countries.

    Currently, scholars are selected from citizens of 14 specified geographic constituencies, namely: Australia; Bermuda; Canada; Germany; Hong Kong; India; Jamaica & Commonwealth Caribbean; Kenya; New Zealand; Pakistan; Southern Africa (South Africa and neighbours Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland); United States; Zambia; and Zimbabwe. The year 2015 saw the expansion of the Rhodes Scholarship into new territories, first with the announcement of a yet-to-be-determined number of scholarships for China, later with the announcement of one to two scholarships per year for the United Arab Emirates. The organisation administering the scholarships is preparing to begin naming scholars from China. The move into China is the biggest expansion since women became eligible in the 1970s.

    Exclusion of women before 1977, and before 2012 in South Africa

    The Rhodes Scholarship was open only to men until 1977, when an Act of Parliament changed Rhodes' will to extend the selection criteria to include women. Before that amendment, some universities protested against the exclusion of women by nominating female candidates, who were later disqualified at the state level of the American competition. In 1977, the first year women were eligible, 24 women (out of 72 total scholars) were selected worldwide, with 13 women and 19 men selected from the United States. Since then, the average female share of the scholarship in the United States had been around 35 percent.

    In South Africa, the will of Cecil Rhodes expressly allocated scholarships to four all-male private schools. In 1992, one of the four schools partnered with an all-girls school in order to allow female applicants. In 2012, the three remaining schools followed suit to allow women to apply. Today, 4 of the 9 scholarships allocated to South Africa are open only to students and alumni of these schools and partner schools.

    Exclusion of Black Africans before 1991

    Beginning in 1970, scholars began protesting against the fact that all Rhodes Scholars from southern Africa were white, with 120 Oxford dons and 80 of the 145 Rhodes Scholars in residence at the time signing a petition calling for non-white scholars to be elected in 1971. The case of South Africa was especially difficult to resolve, because in his will establishing the scholarships, unlike for other constituencies, Rhodes specifically allocated four scholarships to alumni of four white-only private secondary schools. According to Schaeper and Schaeper, the issue became "explosive" in the 1970s and 1980s as scholars argued that the scholarship be changed while the trustees argued they were powerless to change the will. Despite such protests, only in 1991 with the rise of the African National Congress did black South Africans begin to win the scholarships.

    Criticism as colonialist

    Public criticism of the scholarship has also focused on Cecil Rhodes's alleged white supremacist views. For example, in 1966, regional committees in interviews asked a white American candidate to assure them he would not publicly belittle the scholarship after he referred to its founding on "blood money". In 2015, a South African Rhodes Scholar, Ntokozo Qwabe, began a campaign to address Rhodes' controversial historical and political legacy, with a focus on "dismantling the open glorification of colonial genocide in educational & other public spaces – which makes it easy for British people to believe that these genocides were 'not that bad' – and props up the continuing structural legacies of British colonialism, neocolonialism, and ongoing imperialism". Among other things, the campaign called for the removal of a statue of Rhodes from Oriel College and changes to Oxford's curriculum. While the college agreed to review the placement of the statue, the Chancellor of the university, Lord Patten, warned against "pandering to contemporary views".

    A group of Rhodes Scholars also created the group Redress Rhodes whose mission was to "attain a more critical, honest, and inclusive reflection of the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes" and to "make reparative justice a more central theme for Rhodes Scholars." Their demands include, among other things, shifting the Rhodes Scholarships awarded exclusively to previously all-white South African Schools (rather than the at-large national pool), dedicating a "space at Rhodes House for the critical engagement with Cecil Rhodes' legacy, as well as imperial history", and ending a ceremonial toast Rhodes Scholars make to the founder. While the group does not have a position on the removal of the statue, its co-founder has called for the scholarship to be renamed as it is "the ultimate form of veneration and colonial apologism; it’s a large part of why many continue to understand Rhodes as a benevolent founder and benefactor."

    Public criticism has also focused on the alleged hypocrisy of applying for and accepting the Rhodes Scholarship while criticizing it, with University of Cambridge academic Mary Beard, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, arguing that Scholars "[could not] have your cake and eat it here: I mean you can't whitewash Rhodes out of history, but go on using his cash. Reacting to this criticism, Qwabe replied that "all that [Rhodes] looted must absolutely be returned immediately. I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes. I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labour of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved." A group of 198 Rhodes Scholars of various years later signed a statement supporting Qwabe and arguing that there was "no hypocrisy in being a recipient of a Rhodes scholarship and being publicly critical of Cecil Rhodes and his legacy – a legacy that continues to alienate, silence, exclude and dehumanise in unacceptable ways. There is no clause that binds us to find 'the good' in Rhodes' character, nor to sanitise the imperialist, colonial agenda he propagated."

    Criticism over recipients declining to pursue careers in public service

    The tendency of a growing number of Rhodes Scholars to enter business or private law as opposed to public service, for which the scholarship was intended, has been a source of frequent criticism and "occasional embarrassment". Writing in 2009, the Secretary of the Rhodes Trust criticised the trend of Rhodes Scholars to pursue careers on Wall Street, noting that "more than twice as many [now] went into business in just one year than did in the entire 1970s", attributing it to "grotesque" remuneration offered by such occupations. At least a "half dozen" 1990s Rhodes Scholars were partners at Goldman Sachs and, since the 1980s, McKinsey has had numerous Rhodes Scholars as partners. Similarly, of Rhodes Scholars who became attorneys, about one-third serve as staff attorneys for private corporations, while another third remain in private practice or academic posts.

    According to Schaeper and Schaper, "From 1904 to the present, the programme's critics have had two main themes: first, that too many scholars were content with comfortable, safe jobs in academe, in law, and in business; second, that too few had careers in government or other fields where public service was the number-one goal." Andrew Sullivan wrote in 1988 that "of the 1,900 or so living American scholars ... about 250 fill middle-rank administrative and professorial positions in middle-rank state colleges and universities ... [while] another 260...have ended up as lawyers."

    Quality of Post-Graduate Education at Oxford

    In 2007, an op-ed by two American Rhodes Scholars caused an "international row over Oxford's status as a top university" when they criticized the university's post-graduate education as "outdated" and "frustrating" in comparison to their education in the United States, specifically pointing to the perceived low quality of instruction and an insufficient scholarship stipend for living expenses. They also criticized the Rhodes application process itself, arguing that potential applicants should not apply unless they are "ready to study and live in Oxford."

    The original op-ed spurred responses on both sides of the Atlantic. Other students critiqued the authors for their tone of "ingratitude and entitlement," while The Sunday Times noted that it fueled the "long rivalry between Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford" and existing concerns about the quality of British graduate education. In response, the Rhodes Trust released two statements, one to the Sunday Times arguing that their view was "unrepresentative of the vast majority of Americans" studying at Oxford, and another as a reply to the original op-ed arguing that "false expectations," particularly for those uncertain about their degree choice, and going to Oxford for the "wrong reasons," could contribute to dissatisfaction.

    Notable scholars and career trajectories

    Surveying the history of the Rhodes Scholarship, Schaeper and Schaeper conclude that "while "few of them have 'changed the world' ... most of them have been a credit to their professions ... and communities", finding that "the great majority of Rhodes Scholars have had solid, respectable careers." Eight former Rhodes scholars subsequently became heads of government or heads of state, including Wasim Sajjad (Pakistan), Bill Clinton (United States), Dom Mintoff (Malta), John Turner (Canada), Norman Manley (Jamaica) and three Australian prime ministers: Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

    Between 1951–1997, 32% of American Rhodes Scholars pursued careers in education and academia, 20% in law, 15% in business and 10% in medicine and science. Although Cecil Rhodes imagined that scholars would "pursue a full-time career in government ... the number of scholars in local, state and federal government has remained at a steady 7 percent" over the past century. Of the 200 or so scholars who have spent their careers in government, "most of them have had solid, but undistinguished careers," while "perhaps forty or can be said to have had a significant, national impact in their particular areas."

    At least two scholars have served prison terms since the 1980s (one of them being Mel Reynolds, for statutory rape) and around three dozen have committed suicide in the history of the programme.

    Comparison to other post-graduate scholarships

    As the first large-scale programme of international scholarships, the Rhodes Scholarship inspired the creation of other awards, including:

  • The international Fulbright Program to teach study/research or teach English in over 150 countries (1946)
  • The Marshall Scholarship for Americans to study at any university in the United Kingdom (1953)
  • The Kennedy Scholarship for British nationals to study at Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1964)
  • The Harkness Fellowship for citizens of nine countries to conduct research related to health policy in the United States (1997)
  • The Mitchell Scholarship for Americans to study at any university in Ireland (2000)
  • The international Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge (2000)
  • The John Monash Scholarship for Australians to study at any university worldwide (2004)
  • The international Yenching Scholarship for study at Peking University (2015)
  • The international Schwarzman Scholarship for study at Tsinghua University (2016)
  • The international Knight-Hennessy Scholars to study at Stanford University (2018)
  • In structure and selection criteria, the scholarship is most similar to the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and Marshall Scholarship. Like the Rhodes, the Marshall is a two-stage geographic scholarship organised through districts in selecting countries. Like the Gates Cambridge, the Rhodes is tenable at only one university. In structure, the Marshall Scholarship is more flexible than the Rhodes Scholarship, in that Marshall Scholars can study at any British university and can also attend a different university each year during a scholar's tenure. In addition, a limited number of one-year Marshall scholarships are available. The Marshall Scholarship also places a greater emphasis on academic achievement and potential, requiring a minimum grade point average of 3.7. For example, winners of the Marshall Scholarship from Harvard University have had average GPAs of 3.92, while winners of the Rhodes Scholarship from Harvard have had an average GPA of 3.8.


    Rhodes Scholarship Wikipedia