Members of the class of 2018 will be the first to benefit from major expansions to the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, two of the most prestigious awards for postgraduate study.

In late May, the Rhodes Trust announced what will be the largest expansion in the scholarship’s history, growing the award from 85 scholarships for 30 countries to 95 scholarships for 64 countries. The expansion followed a December announcement by the Marshall Scholarship, in which the program shared that an increase in funding allowed the number of recipients to expand by 25 percent, bringing the total number of awards to 40.

Rebekah Westphal, director of the Office of Fellowship Programs at Yale, said she welcomed these changes and the opportunities they could create for Yale students and alumni.

“It’s wonderful that these opportunities are now available to more students around the globe,” Westphal said. “It’s a superb scholarship, but more than that, Rhodes Scholars are an incredible community.”

And while she noted that most of Yale’s applicants for the Rhodes are U.S. citizens and will therefore not be affected by the expansion, Westphal emphasized that she hoped more of Yale’s international students and alumni will take advantage of the new competitions.

The Rhodes Scholarship funds two to four years of study at Oxford University towards a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. The award covers the cost of tuition and provides a monthly maintenance stipend for accommodations and living expenses. Similarly, the Marshall Scholarship, which is only open to students from the U.S., funds study towards a graduate degree at a U.K. university.

According to Alok Sharma, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s parliamentary under-secretary of state, the expansion of the Marshall Scholarship shows “how resolute” the program is in its “commitment to the special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K.

“Giving these talented people the opportunity to study at our best universities means we can secure influential access to the next generation of American leaders in business, politics and many other professions,” Sharma said in a press release on the topic.

Skyler Ross ’16, a 2016 recipient of the Marshall, praised the increase in the program’s funding, adding that while the expansion would not benefit Yalies specifically, it would increase the odds of success for individual applicants, provided that the volume of applications remained constant.

The Rhodes expansion will open the award up to students from formerly excluded countries in Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. In addition to this wider geographic reach, the program also unveiled a £75 million (about $97 million at current rates) partnership with Atlantic Philanthropies to create the Atlantic Institute at the Rhodes House — an Atlanta-based organization that aims to bring together academics, activists, government officials and others to collaborate on solutions to pressing societal issues like income inequality — and create a new award, the Rhodes Fellowship, to support mid-career professionals addressing public problems.

According to the Rhodes House press release, the expansion will promote broader global collaboration and understanding. Hannah Carrese ’16, a 2017 Rhodes winner, noted that Yale seniors should be excited about the expansion, as it meant there would be “more applicants and more scholars,” making “the whole thing merrier.”

“The joy of the interview process for these scholarships — and, I imagine, the joy of studying at Oxford — is in meeting students from places and in disciplines and with ideas very different from your own,” said Carrese, who will be starting her studies at Oxford this academic year.

Matthew Townsend ’15, a Rhodes 2015 winner, similarly noted that “extending the Rhodes opportunity to a wider group of countries will enrich this community.”

The Rhodes expansion comes in the wake of the re-emergence of controversy surrounding the scholarship’s namesake, Cecil Rhodes. A 19th century diamond magnate and imperialist involved in the establishment of white rule in South Africa and Rhodesia (current-day Zimbabwe), Rhodes endowed the scholarship program in his will “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.” The “Rhodes Must Fall”  movement, born at the University of Cape Town, inspired protests at the country’s institutions of higher education against South Africa’s persistent racial inequality, and, at Oxford, a South-African Rhodes scholar spurred a movement to remove a statue of Rhodes from Oriel College, Rhodes’ alma mater. In a New York Times article, Charles Conn, warden of Rhodes House, denied that the announcement of the expansion was timed to address these controversies.

Yale has produced a combined 19 Rhodes and Marshall scholarship winners in the last three years.

Luke Ciancarelli | | @lvc250