The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. Established in 1903, it is the oldest graduate scholarship in the world. It is considered among the most prestigious international scholarship programmes in the world. Its founder, Cecil John Rhodes, wanted to promote unity between English-speaking nations and instil a sense of civic-minded leadership and moral fortitude in future leaders, irrespective of their chosen career paths.

Initially restricted to male applicants from countries that are today within the Commonwealth, Germany and the United States, the scholarship is now open to applicants from all backgrounds and genders from across the globe. Since its creation, controversy has surrounded its initial exclusion of women, historical failure to select black Africans, and Cecil Rhodes’s own standing as a British imperialist.

Rhodes scholars have achieved distinction as politicians, academics, scientists and doctors, authors, entrepreneurs, and Nobel Prize winners. Many scholars have become heads of state or heads of government, including President of the United States Bill Clinton, President of Pakistan Wasim Sajjad, Prime Minister of Jamaica Norman Manley, Prime Minister of Malta Dom Mintoff, and Prime Ministers of Australia Tony Abbott, Bob Hawke, and Malcolm Turnbull.

Other notable Rhodes Scholars include Nobel Prize-winning scientist and discoverer of penicillin Howard Florey, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa Edwin Cameron, Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence, Australian High Court Justice James Edelman, journalist and American television host Rachel Maddow, author Naomi Wolf, musician Kris Kristofferson, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow

Founding and motivation Rhodes Scholarship

Numerous international scholarship programmes were very much underway by 1900. Since the 1880s, governments, universities, and individuals in the settler colonies had been establishing travelling scholarships to home universities. By 1900, the travelling scholarship had become an important part of settler universities’ educational visions. It served as a crucial mechanism by which they sought to claim their citizenship of what they saw as the expansive British academic world. The Rhodes programme was a copy that soon became the best-known version. The Rhodes Trust established the scholarships in 1902 under the terms laid out in the sixth and final will of Cecil John Rhodes, dated 1 July 1899 and appended by several codicils through March 1902.

The scholarships were founded for two reasons: to promote unity within the British empire, and to strengthen diplomatic ties between Britain and the United States of America. In Rhodes’s own words, “I … desire to encourage and foster an appreciation of the advantages which I implicitly believe will result from the union of the English-speaking peoples throughout the world and to encourage in the students from North America who would benefit from the American Scholarships.” Rhodes also bequeathed scholarships to German students in the hope that, “a good understanding between England, Germany and the United States of America will secure the peace of the world.”

Rhodes, who attended Oriel College, Oxford, believed the university’s residential colleges would be the best venue to nurture diplomatic ties between future world leaders.

To this day, controversies persist over Rhodes’s Anglo-supremacist beliefs, most of which date back to his 1877 confession of faith.However, such convictions did not play a part in the final vision for the scholarship. The scholarships are based on Rhodes’s final will and testament, which states that “no student shall be qualified or disqualified for election … on account of his race or religious opinions”.

The Rhodes Scholarships are administered and awarded by the Rhodes Trust, which is located at Rhodes House in Oxford. The trust has been modified by four 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.

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