Built on white imperialism, Rhodes Scholarship now open to all
Cecil John Rhodes was an unabashed colonialist. Source: Shutterstock

The scholarship’s namesake was a white Anglo-South African diamond tycoon who unabashedly pillaged African resources and people during the late 19th century.

In recent years, Cecil John Rhodes is the same controversial figure behind the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaigns, where university students called for his statues to be removed from South African universities and elsewhere in a bid to “decolonise” their schools.

This time around, Rhodes is making news for his scholarship programme – the oldest and one of the most prestigious in the world – which will now accept candidates from across the globe, The Guardian reported.

“In the last five years we’ve thought: how can we take this great old institution and bring it into the 21st century? And one of the most obvious things is, why is the scholarship only tenable if you’re in a former Commonwealth country, plus the US and Germany?” asked Rhodes Trust Chief Executive Charles Conn.

“We’re looking for people to fight the world’s fights, who we hope will change the world for the better. They might just as easily come from Indonesia or Brazil, or Birmingham.”

Conn is also the warden of Rhodes House in Oxford, which administers the programme.

Only residents of a small group of countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa, were eligible for the scholarship under its previous rules. In recent years, it has slowly expanded this to include a number of students from China and the Middle East.

The Guardian notes that there are currently 82 Rhodes scholarships shared between 18 individual countries and territories. Another 16 scholarships are available for students in these regions: Southern Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Caribbean, and Syria, Jordan, Lebanon & Palestine.

The scholarship covers the tuition, accommodation and living expenses for an initial two years of postgraduate funding, which can be extended to a third year.

Rhodes had ‘aimed at making Oxford University the educational centre of the English-speaking race’. Source: Shutterstock

The recent expansion will offer two new global scholarships for the countries that do not fall within any of the aforementioned groups.

Established in 1902, the postgraduate scholarship at Oxford University was aimed at promoting civic-minded leadership among “young colonists”  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”, as elaborated in Rhodes’ will.

He “aimed at making Oxford University the educational centre of the English-speaking race”.

Until the 1970s, women were not eligible for the scholarship as stipulated by Rhodes. Same goes for British students.

Conn says the trustees’ job is to support the scholarships, and not to “make apologies” for Rhodes as a person.

“We don’t feel constrained by who Rhodes was as a person, but perhaps each Rhodes scholar needs to reflect on that when they accept the money,” Conn said, as quoted by The New York Times.


The program relied mostly on the initial massive endowment from Rhodes, but this has now been reduced to only paying for less than half of its annual costs.

Notable alumni include former US President Bill Clinton, former Prime Minister of Canada John Turner, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Nobel prize-winners, as well as other political, academic and media leaders.

The scholarship is intensely competitive. Applicants need to show “incredibly high” academic results, a strong passion for social work as well as “something non-academic at a very high level”.

“And then you want to demonstrate leadership. But it’s pretty hard to fake. We do get applications every year from people who tack some stuff on to their résumé. We’re pretty good at sniffing them out,” Conn said.

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