Rhodes Scholarship

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Not to be confused with Road Scholar.
Rhodes House in Oxford, designed by Sir Herbert Baker

The Rhodes Scholarship, named for Cecil John Rhodes, is an international postgraduate award for selected foreign students to study at the University of Oxford.[1] Describing itself as "perhaps the most prestigious scholarship" [2] in the world, the award is widely considered to be one of the world's most prestigious scholarships by public sources such as Time,[3] The McGill Reporter,[4] and the Associated Press.[5] Established in 1902, it was the first large-scale programme of international scholarships,[6] inspiring creation of other awards like the Harkness Fellowship and Kennedy Scholarship for British nationals, the Marshall Scholarship for Americans, and more recently the international Schwarzman Scholarship for study at Tsinghua University. In the United States, the Scholarship is among the most selective available for American undergraduates, with 3.7% of 869 university-endorsed applicants receiving it in 2014,[7] and it is the most selective Scholarship available to Canadians, with an average of 4.7% of university-endorsed applicants receiving it between 1997-2002.[8]

Cecil Rhodes' goals in creating the Rhodes Scholarships were to promote civic-minded leadership amongst young people with (in the words of his 1899 Will) "moral force of character and instincts to lead", and (as he wrote in a 1901 codicil to his Will) to help "render war impossible" through promoting understanding between the great powers.[9] Evaluating career trajectory, Schaefer and Schaefer conclude that "the great majority of Rhodes Scholars have had solid, respectable careers," and that while "few of them have 'changed the world'...most of them have been a credit to their professions...and communities." Nonetheless, several Scholars have become heads of government or heads of state, including Wasim Sajjad (Pakistan), Bill Clinton (United States), Dom Mintoff (Malta), John Turner (Canada), and three Australian Prime Ministers: Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

Rhodes Scholars may study any full-time postgraduate course offered by the university,[10] 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.[11][12] 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.


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 estate under the administration of Nathan Rothschild.[13] Scholarships have been awarded to applicants annually since 1902 on the basis of academic achievement and strength of character. Rhodes, who attended the University of Oxford (as a member of Oriel College), chose his alma mater as the site of his great experiment because he believed its residential colleges provided the ideal environment for intellectual contemplation and personal development.

There have been more than 7,000 Rhodes scholars since the inception of the trust. More than 4,000 are still living.[14] The Rhodes Trust provides the Rhodes Scholarships in partnership with the Second Century Founder, John McCall MacBain and other benefactors.

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.[15] 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 10 British post-graduate students per year to study at either Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Also, it cooperates with universities in China, BLCC for example. BLCC offers high-level scholarships for international students who aim to study Chinese in Beijing.[16][17] In 1953, the Parliament of the United Kingdom created the Marshall Scholarship as a coeducational alternative to the Rhodes that would serve as a living gift to the United States.[18]

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 the exclusion of women by nominating female candidates, who were later disqualified at the state level of the American competition.[19] 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.[20] Since then, the average female share of the scholarship in the United States had been around 35 percent[20] but has since increased. From 2003 to 2012, 46 percent of scholarship winners from the United States were women.

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.[citation needed]

The organization 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.[21]

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, such as for the 25th anniversary of the Trust and the opening of Rhodes House in 1929, the 50th anniversary in 1953, the 80th anniversary in 1983, the centenary in 2003 and the celebration of the 110th anniversary in 2013. This event also saw the announcement of the Rhodes Trust’s first Second Century Founder, John McCall MacBain, who together with his wife Marcy McCall MacBain, donated £75 million to support the Rhodes Scholarships. Mr McCall MacBain has been a Rhodes Trustee since 2010.

In 2015, Rhodes Scholar R.W. Johnson has published a critical account of the decline of the Rhodes Trust under Warden John Rowett, and commended the recovery under Wardens Donald Markwell and Charles R. Conn.[22]


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;
  • 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.

This 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".[13]

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, Gates Scholarship and Mitchell Scholarship, but marginally less selective than the Marshall Scholarship.[23] 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 New Foundland and Labrador receiving 18 applications for 1 spot (5.7%).[24]

Subsequent changes to selection[edit]

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.[25]

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.[citation needed] 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.


Australia[26][27] 9 6
Bermuda[28] 1 1
Canada[29] 11 2
Newfoundland 0 1
Germany[30] 2  —
Hong Kong 1  —
India[31][32] 5  —
Jamaica[33] 1 1
1  —
Kenya 2  —
New Zealand[34][35][36] 3 1
Pakistan 1  —
Southern Africa[37][38] 10 5
United States[39][40][41] 32 32
Zambia &
(formerly Rhodesia)

Total 83 52

There were originally 52 scholarships.[13][25]

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).[42]

During the ensuing 100 years, the trustees added at one time or another approximately another 40 scholarships, though not all have continued. Some of these extended the scheme to Commonwealth countries not mentioned in the will.[14] 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.[43][44] Complete details can be obtained from the nominating countries.[45]

Currently, scholars are selected from citizens of 14 specified geographic constituencies,[46][47] 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,[48] later with the announcement of one to two scholarships per year for the United Arab Emirates.[49]

Notable Scholars and Career Trajectories[edit]

Surveying the history of the Rhodes Scholarship, Schaefer and Schaefer conclude that "the great majority of Rhodes Scholars have had solid, respectable careers," and that while "few of them have 'changed the world'...most of them have been a credit to their professions...and communities."[50] 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.[51] However, despite the fact that 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."[52] Several Scholars subsequently became heads of government or heads of state, including Wasim Sajjad (Pakistan), Bill Clinton (United States), Dom Mintoff (Malta), John Turner (Canada), and three Australian Prime Ministers: Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. In the United States, the current U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, and Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti are Rhodes Scholars.

The tendency of a growing number of Rhodes Scholars to enter business or private law as opposed to public service, as the scholarship was designed, has been a source of frequent criticism and "occasional embarrassment."[53] Writing in 2009, the Secretary of the Rhodes Trust criticized 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" wages offered by such occupations.[54] Indeed, in the 1990s, at least a "half dozen" Rhodes Scholars would serve as partners at Goldman Sachs, and since the 1980s, Boston Consulting Group has had numerous Rhodes Scholars serving 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.[55]

Many Rhodes Scholars have gone on to have prominent careers in business, politics, sport and academia.[56] Nonetheless, "from 1904 to the present, the program'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."[57] Andrew Sullivan, in particular, wrote a noted critique in 1988, pointing out 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."[58] At least two scholars have served prison terms since the 1980s (Harold Griffin and Mel Reynolds), and in the history of the program around three dozen have committed suicide.[59]

Centenary degrees[edit]

In recognition of the centenary of the foundation of the Rhodes Trust in 2003, four former Rhodes Scholarship recipients were awarded honorary degrees by the University of Oxford. Note that these people already held regular higher degrees.

  • John Brademas (Indiana and Brasenose 1950), President of New York University, US Congressman (Indiana), 1959–1981
  • Bob Hawke (Western Australia and University 1953), Prime Minister of Australia, 1983–1991
  • Rex Nettleford (Jamaica and Oriel 1957), Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, author, dance director
  • David R. Woods (Rhodes and University 1963), Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University

During the Centenary celebrations, the foundation of The Mandela Rhodes Foundation was also marked.

110th Rhodes Anniversary[edit]

During the 110th Rhodes Anniversary celebrations in September 2013, John McCall MacBain, Marcy McCall MacBain and the McCall MacBain Foundation donated £75 million towards the fundraising efforts of the Rhodes Trust.[60] The 110th Rhodes Anniversary saw over 900 Rhodes Scholars and their guests come back to Rhodes House and Oxford.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rhodes Trust (2009) The Rhodes Scholarships, www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 26 December 2009.
  2. ^ http://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/rhodesscholarship/about-the-rhodes-scholarships
  3. ^ "Education: Reunion of a Scholarly Elite". Time.com. 11 July 1983. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  4. ^ McCabe, Daniel (13 December 2001). "The Rhodes to glory" 34 (7). Mc Gill Reporter. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  5. ^ "Swimmers, poets among 2010 Rhodes Scholars Winners selected from 805 applicants at 326 schools". Associated Press. 23 November 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  6. ^ The American Rhodes Scholarships: A Review of the First Forty Years, Review author[s]: Harvie Branscomb, The American Historical Review © 1947 American Historical Association
  7. ^ http://now.uiowa.edu/2015/11/ui-senior-named-rhodes-scholar
  8. ^ "York University | Division of Students | Rhodes Scholarship". www.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2015-11-23. 
  9. ^ See, e.g., 'To "render war impossible": the Rhodes Scholarships, educational relations between countries, and peace' in Donald Markwell, "Instincts to Lead: On Leadership, Peace, and Education (2013).
  10. ^ Periodically the Rhodes Trustees include or exclude the MBA from the courses offered.
  11. ^ "FAQs about the Scholarships". Rhodes Trust. 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2010. In 2009, the stipend was UKPounds 958/month 
  12. ^ Gerson, Elliot F. (21 November 2009). "From the Office of the American Secretary" (PDF) (Press release). Retrieved 6 December 2010. Amongst other things, the press release states that the value of the Rhodes Scholarship varies depending on the academic field and the degree (B.A., master's, doctoral) chosen. For American Rhodes Scholars, Gerson estimates that the total value of the scholarship averages approximately US$50,000 per year, or up to as much as US$175,000 for scholars who remain in Oxford for four years. 
  13. ^ a b c d Cecil Rhodes & William Thomas Stead (1902). The last will and testament of Cecil John Rhodes: with elucidatory notes to which are added some chapters describing the political and religious ideas of the testator. "Review of Reviews" Office. 
  14. ^ a b "Brief history of the Rhodes Trust". Archived from the original on 6 Feb 2007. 
  15. ^ History of the Harkness Fellowships, nla.gov.au
  16. ^ BLCC Scholarship, CUCAS (10 July 2015). "BLCC Scholarship for Chinese Programs". BBC News. Retrieved 10 July 2015. 
  17. ^ "BLCC Scholarships for Chinese Language Programs". 
  18. ^ http://news.cucas.edu.cn/Admission_Express/CUCAS-Exclusive-Study-in-China-Scholarship:--200,000-Chinese-Language-Program-Scholarship_2772.html?utm_source=blccscholarship&utm_medium=article&utm_content=scholarship&utm_campaign=adv
  19. ^ http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1973/10/6/harvard-endorses-3-women-for-male-restricted/
  20. ^ a b Second-class citizens: How women became Rhodes Scholars, 29 January 2010, therhodesproject.wordpress.com
  21. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/31/world/asia/rhodes-scholarships-expanding-to-include-chinese-students.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
  22. ^ R.W. Johnson, Look Back in Laughter: Oxford's Postwar Golden Age, Threshold Press, 2015, especially pages 195-220.
  23. ^ http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/meet-the-2014-rhodes-scholars/2013/11/26/ea276b1a-5600-11e3-835d-e7173847c7cc_story.html
  24. ^ http://www.yorku.ca/vpstdnts/rhodes/rhodes_background.html
  25. ^ a b c "Lists of Rhodes Scholars". 
  26. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships in Australia". Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  27. ^ "Australian Rhodes Scholarships". 
  28. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships in Bermuda". 
  29. ^ "The Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars". 
  30. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships in Germany". 
  31. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships in India". 
  32. ^ "Indian Rhodes Scholarships". 
  33. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships for Jamaica & the Commonwealth Caribbean". 
  34. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships in New Zealand". 
  35. ^ "New Zealand Vice-Chancellors' Committee page on Rhodes Scholarships". 
  36. ^ "New Zealand Rhodes Scholars, listed for 1903 to 1964". 
  37. ^ "The Rhodes Scholarships in South Africa". 
  38. ^ "The Mandela Rhodes Foundation in South Africa". 
  39. ^ "The Rhodes Trust, USA". 
  40. ^ "Association of American Rhodes Scholars". 
  41. ^ "United States Naval Academy Rhodes Scholars". 
  42. ^ http://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/southern-africa
  43. ^ "Rhodes Scholarship FAQ". 
  44. ^ "Information about the Scholarships". 
  45. ^ "Country Websites and Information". 
  46. ^ "Rhodes Scholarship constituencies". 
  47. ^ "Countries from which Rhodes Scholars are selected". 
  48. ^ http://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/news/chinalaunch
  49. ^ http://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/news/uae-launch
  50. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 314.
  51. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 279.
  52. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 311.
  53. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 300-302.
  54. ^ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/20/AR2009112003374.html
  55. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 302.
  56. ^ Finnegan, Leah (18 July 2011). "11 Famous Rhodes Scholars". Huffington Post. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  57. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 280.
  58. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 282.
  59. ^ Schaeper, Thomas and Kathleen Schaeper. "Rhodes Scholars: Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," 2010. Berghahn Books: New York, p. 351, 354.
  60. ^ "McCall MacBain donation". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Godfrey Elton, The First Fifty Years of The Rhodes Trust and Scholarships, 1903-1953. London: Blackwell, 1955.
  • R.I. Rotberg, The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Philip Ziegler, Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.
  • R.W. Johnson, Look Back in Laughter: Oxford's Postwar Golden Age. Threshold Press, 2015

Books by former Wardens of Rhodes House, Oxford:

  • Anthony Kenny, The History of the Rhodes Trust. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Donald Markwell, "Instincts to Lead": On Leadership, Peace, and Education, 2013.

External links[edit]