Sir Colin Lucas, secretary of the Rhodes Trust, is cutting the number of scholarships to poor countries
"We are really not just being beastly," insisted Sir Colin Lucas, secretary of the Rhodes Trust, which faces criticism after axeing scholarships for students from impoverished countries including Bangladesh and Uganda.
Sir Colin, former vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said that by cutting 11 of its 94 scholarships for five years from next year, the trust was "putting its house in order".
But a group of US Rhodes scholars is considering a legal challenge saying that it will mean fewer scholarships to help students from poor countries take places at Oxford, while 32 awards to relatively wealthy Americans will be unaffected.
Sir Colin pointed out that to cut scholarships for Americans would mean the trust - whose past beneficiaries include Bill Clinton, the former US President - would contravene the will of its founder, Sir Cecil Rhodes. He said: "Every charity has to conform to its founding document. Under charity law you cannot change the founding document because you do not like it."
He admitted that changes were made in the 1970s to allow scholarships to be awarded to women because the founding document referred only to men. But he added: "It is clear we could have serious legal responses from the US if we tried to reduce the number of American scholarships."
The cuts are a response to the rising costs of studying and living in Oxford.
Scholarships will still be awarded to students from Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.