Cambridge and Oxford universities compete in everything from chess to cricket, but for nearly a century Oxford stood alone with its Rhodes Scholars program for attracting non-British students. Now Cambridge, thanks to a new $210 million trust announced 11 October by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is launching a scholars' program of its own, which each year will fund at least 225 students from outside of the United Kingdom.
The university will select Gates Cambridge Scholars based on merit, not need, focusing on academic ability and leadership potential. The program will support students from any country; Rhodes Scholars, in contrast, must come from one of 19 jurisdictions. The scholars, who will receive about $40,000 a year in support, will live together in what will be called the Gates House. "We are hoping that the young people we select will be motivated to use their education to put something back into society for the benefit of a much wider community," explained Bill Gates Sr., CEO of the foundation and father of the Microsoft co-founder, in a prepared statement. The Gates Foundation currently has roughly $21 billion in assets, making it the largest philanthropy in the world.
Gates Cambridge Scholars will be able to pursue either a graduate degree or a second bachelor's degree, which often helps students who have attended undistinguished schools in poorer countries. Although the program will not evaluate a student's financial situation, "the large bulk of the scholarships will go to people who wouldn't be here otherwise," predicts Anne Lonsdale, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Relations at Cambridge.
Cambridge already has scholarship funds set up for overseas students, but the new gift dramatically changes the amount of available resources. "Instead of having to worry about every penny that goes into scholarships, suddenly we have all this money," Lonsdale says. "We're deeply happy."