Rhodes Scholarship to Expand to More Countries After $120 Million Gift

For 100 years, the Rhodes Scholarship has been one of the most prestigious academic achievements, awarding a worthy student from Commonwealth countries, as well as United States and Germany, with study at Oxford University. Now, a former Rhodes Scholar from Ontario, Canada wants to open that up to students from more countries including Russia, China and Brazil by making the largest donation – $120 million – in the scholarship’s history.

John McCall MacBain, a former owner of Trader Classified Media, made the donation to the Rhodes Trust, the organization charged with managing the funding for the scholarship, specifically for the purpose of making the prize more international. In the statement announcing the gift, McCall MacBain – who is also one of the charity’s trustees – said that he hoped to see the scholarship expand in the next five to ten years.

The Rhodes Scholarship was established in 1902 by British businessman Cecil Rhodes, who made his fortune in the diamond business in South Africa. Mr. Rhodes founded diamond giant De Beers, served briefly in South African politics, and administered a nearby territory that was later named after him, Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. A strong advocate of the British Empire, he created the Oxford scholarship to help students from Britain and its colonies who demonstrated accomplishments in academics, athletics and leadership. The United States and Germany were included because Mr. Rhodes believed they were the keys to lasting world peace.

Paul Waldie of The Globe and Mail reports that 8,000 winners have been awarded the scholarship, among them three eventual Nobel Prize laureates and former US President Bill Clinton. Rhodes’ initial endowment of £3.3 million – close to £300 million in today’s money – and additional investment income has been sufficient to finance the scholarships of all the winners up until now which include two years’ tuition, room and board and additional money for living expenses. Currently, the scholarship is awarded to 83 students from 14 countries.

Mr. McCall MacBain said that because of the soaring cost of education and dwindling investment returns, the trust began seeking donations in 2010 to bolster the endowment. It has launched a campaign to raise £110 million, or $181-million. Part of that will go toward increasing the number of scholarships.

“Cecil Rhodes, if you look back, he created this great scholarship and it’s still alive and well today accepting the best scholars,” he said. “The only thing it is limited on, it is limited in territory and I think that’s one of the things we’d want to look to expand if we can afford to do that.” Mr. McCall MacBain added that including more countries would raise issues of qualifications and standards that the trust would have to address.

After his own stint as a Rhodes Scholar in the 1980s studying law, McCall MacBain gained the epithet “King of the Classifieds” making his money buying and selling circulars and amassing a personal fortune of more than $1 billion.