The Cecil Rhodes Foundation at Oxford administers the Rhodes scholarships, which were established in 1903 by South African politician and diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes. According to the foundation's web site, Rhodes "dreamed of improving the world through the diffusion of leaders motivated to serve their contemporaries, trained in the contemplative life of the mind, and broadened by their acquaintance with one another and by their exposure to cultures different from their own. Mr. Rhodes hoped that his plan of bringing able students from throughout the English-speaking world and beyond to study at Oxford University would aid in the promotion of international understanding and peace. Each year, 32 U. S. citizens are among more than 90 Rhodes Scholars worldwide who take up degree courses at Oxford University."
Rhodes' Will contained four criteria by which prospective Rhodes Scholars are to be selected:
- literary and scholastic attainments;
- energy to use one's talents to the full, 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.
Cecil Rhodes himself spent much of his life trying to institute white rule in Africa, and the racist nation of Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) was named after him. He also set up a cruel trade in diamonds that persists to this day. He never intended for his scholarship to provide educational opportunities for the needy or deserving. Rather, it was to be an investment in promising individuals and future leaders. The selection criteria was not extended to include women until 1977. Nevertheless, many Rhodes scholars have distinguished themselves in a variety of endeavors, including the arts, science and politics.