The organization that administers Rhodes scholarships is preparing to expand to the developing world and other countries and will soon begin naming scholars from China.
BEIJING — The organization that administers Rhodes scholarships, the prestigious grant program that sends promising students to the University of Oxford, is preparing to expand to the developing world and other countries and will soon begin naming scholars from China.
The move into China, announced Monday, is the first step in what the program expects to be its biggest expansion since it made women eligible in the 1970s. It is meant to cultivate a more diverse crop of young people the program hopes will become leaders in their countries, adding to a list that includes Nobel Prize recipients, former U.S. President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia.
By entering China, the program, which has struggled financially in recent years, is also creating a new platform to raise money. But even among the many alumni who believe that an expansion is overdue and that Chinese students should be a part of it, there is some concern about whether the Communist Party will try to exert pressure on the selection process to exclude university students whom the authorities view as critical of the government.
The decision comes amid a big push into China by some of the world’s most selective universities seeking new students, new sources of funding and ways to develop programs and research institutes inside the country. The group includes Harvard, Yale and the University of California, Berkeley.
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But the move also comes at a time when the authorities are pressuring Chinese universities to limit their use of foreign textbooks, which officials say promote “Western values.”
British mining magnate Cecil Rhodes created the scholarship program more than a century ago to try to help secure world peace by educating potential leaders, mostly from British colonies, at his beloved Oxford. The concept was that if such top-tier students studied together, they had more of a chance of working out problems peacefully.
Charles Conn, who manages the scholarship program and is a former Rhodes scholar from the United States, dismissed the concerns expressed over possible political interference in China.
“This is not our first rodeo,” Conn said before the announcement. “We’ve elected Rhodes scholars in some of the most difficult parts of world, including South Africa, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, and at difficult times in their history. If the Rhodes Trust is good at anything, it’s selecting energetic and ethical young people.”