Rhodes party marred by dispute

July 4, 2003

The centenary celebrations for the Rhodes Trust, which included Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, were overshadowed this week by complaints from Rhodes scholars that the trust was neglecting their interests, writes Claire Sanders.

The THES has seen a copy of a letter sent to the board of trustees by 115 Rhodes scholars (there are about 250 at Oxford at any one time), highlighting four concerns:

  • A lack of personal interaction between the warden and the scholars in residence
  • A lack of consistency and transparency in matters of funding
  • An apparent deterioration of relations between Rhodes House and the university's colleges
  • Confusion about the relationship between the trust's activities in South Africa and the Rhodes scholarship programme.

The letter makes particular reference to the priorities of trust warden John Rowett. It says: "Our concern is that due to his juggling of the positions of CEO of the Rhodes Trust, joint CEO of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and warden of Rhodes House, the interests of scholars in residence have been adversely affected."

Last year, the Rhodes Trust and the Nelson Mandela Foundation charity launched the £10 million Mandela Rhodes Trust to work in education, healthcare, environmental protection, governance, law and sport in South Africa.

The letter expresses support for such initiatives that complement, rather than compete, with the traditional focus of the trust, which is to prepare future world leaders. It asks the board of trustees and the warden to clarify the intended relationship between the trust's activities in South Africa and the scholarship programme.

Lord Waldegrave, the former Conservative cabinet minister who is chairman of the trust, said: "I have met these students and they are not objecting to us working in South Africa. They do have legitimate concerns, though."

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