|OXFORD UNIVERSITY: Rhodes scholarship offers an opportunity to aim for world class excellence in your chosen vocation
Scholarships: For graduate and postgraduate courses, such as BA, BCL, M.Lit., MSc, MPhil, BPhil, DPhil
Institution: University of Oxford, UK
Number of scholarships: Five scholars selected from India each year
Eligibility: First class degree in Humanities, Sciences, Law, Engineering, Agriculture or Medicine from an Indian university
Selection: Essay, zonal interview and final interview
Administered by: Rhodes Trust
ABOUT 20 years ago, Sanjeev Sanyal was in the middle of a canoeing expedition near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh when he came to know - quite unexpectedly - that he had been shortlisted for the preliminary interviews in Delhi for the Rhodes Scholarships.
“I barely caught the last train back to Delhi – traveling in the unreserved second class compartment. I was so exhausted from the previous few days on the river that I crawled under the seat and went off to sleep behind someone’s suitcase,” Sanyal continues, reminiscing about the days when he had applied for the scholarship.
For someone who had not expected to be chosen for the preliminary interview, Sanyal got through two interviews in Delhi and Kolkata, and found himself flying to the UK to study at Oxford, one of the oldest and most respected universities in the world. As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics between 1992 and 1994, followed by a one year Master’s degree in the Economics of Developing Countries. Sanyal currently works as Global Strategist at Deutsche Bank. He is also an environmentalist and founder of The Sustainable Planet Institute, an organization that describes itself as a “platform for thought leadership on the key sustainability challenges”.
“It opened my eyes to the rest of the world. The Rhodes Trust very kindly funded me to work for a summer in a remote part of South Africa. This was just a few months after the end of apartheid. I really enjoyed life on the open Veld and witnessed first-hand the major changes taking place in that country at that time. Later I travelled through Guatemala to study Spanish and visit the great Mayan sites. All in all, it gave me an international worldview that is very important in my work as the Global Strategist of one of the world’s largest banks,” says Sanyal named last year as one of the 12 ‘Young Global Leaders’ from India by the World Economic Forum.
Rhodes hall of fame
Edwin Powell Hubble, American astronomer who discovered ‘Doppler shift’ observed in the light spectra from other galaxies
Girish Karnad, acclaimed Indian playwright, actor and movie director
Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States
Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, international economic thinker known for writing Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered
Edward De Bono, Maltese physician, author and inventor who originated the term ‘lateral thinking’
Seeking well-rounded personalities
Sanyal’s taste for things beyond academics must have stood him in good stead with the selection committee for the Scholarships, which are currently awarded to a total of 83 students selected each year from about 14 geographies, primarily consisting of the US, Germany and the Commonwealth countries.
“My desire being that the students who shall be elected to the Scholarships shall not be merely bookworms,” said Cecil J Rhodes (1853-1902), the British statesman and the eponymous founder of Rhodes Scholarships in his will. Apart from academic excellence, aptitude for sports and “moral force of character” have also been specified as the personality traits that Rhodes desired in prospective scholars.
Application and Selection
Eligible candidates can apply for Rhodes scholarships online or download the application form from the official website. An important accompaniment of the application is a 1000-word "personal statement or essay, including a clear statement of what the applicant wishes to study at Oxford and why". This essay plays a substantial role in the impressions formed by the selection committee about the applicant
“Since at all levels, the interviews are largely based on your personal statement, I think it helps to pay close attention to what you’re writing, whether you believe in it, and whether you can defend it in the face of critical scrutiny,” says Gautam Bhatia, one of the five 2011 Rhodes Scholars-Elect. He was a final year BA LLB (Hons) student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, at the time of being chosen for the scholarship. Bhatia will be reading for the Bachelor of Civil Law (a Master’s degree) at Oxford University. For his final interview, he faced a panel consisting of the likes of Ratan Tata and Rahul Gandhi.
Prof. Virender Chauhan, Secretary, Rhodes Scholarships (India), says the selection panel is usually made up of former Rhodes scholars as well as other eminent personalities and experts.
Tenure and funding
Rhodes Scholarships are typically awarded for two years, but can be renewed for a third year at the discretion of the trustees of the administering body. They cover the course fees, a personal stipend and one economy class airf ticket to Oxford at the start of the scholarship, as well as an economy class flight back to the student’s home country at the conclusion of the scholarship.
"A variety of social, educational backgrounds"
Nandan Kamath who has been a member of the committees selecting Rhodes Scholars from India shares his views with Malavika Mariswamy. The former Rhodes scholar is one of the trustees of the Go Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization.
Q: What kind of applicants stand a good chance of being called for the preliminary interview?
A: The criteria are clearly laid out in the will of Cecil Rhodes and clearly specified on the website. All selections are based on those. That said, a clear and well-written essay is absolutely critical as that is the first, and possibly only, impression the selection committee has of the applicant and his or her attributes and demonstrable achievements.
Q: What do the interviewers look out for in a candidate at the preliminary (or zonal) and final interviews?
A: Again, the criteria are clearly laid out and it is the role of the selection panel to give candidates an opportunity to express themselves freely and demonstrate their fit.
Q: Has anything changed over the years in the way the Rhodes Scholarships are administered or in the profile of students applying for them?
A: There is clearly a wider range of applicants in recent years and scholarships are more accessible. While it is a prestigious scholarship I wouldn’t necessarily consider it an elitist one. Selected candidates come from a variety of social and educational backgrounds, the uniting factor being their passion for their field and their personal attributes.
Q: Do the applicants comprise of students from varied fields of study (a lot of law students seem to be applying and even making it)?
A. Yes, applicants come from a large variety of fields. There is certainly a large percentage of law students applying. This is partly a self-fulfilling prophesy given that there have been a number of successful law student candidates in the past and it always helps to have mentorship through the application process.
Q: Is anything being done to increase the reach of Rhodes Scholarships and encourage students from diverse academic backgrounds to apply?
A: This is certainly a priority. Each year there are efforts to spread awareness, by holding information sessions and ensuring that press releases happen nationally. The website displays the variety of courses that successful candidates undertake. There is a Facebook Group where applicants can interact with each other and with those at Oxford. All these are aimed at making the process open to people from all backgrounds.
|Remembering the journey
Somak Ghoshal, Rhodes Scholar (2004) and journalist
WHILE studying science at +2 level, Somak Ghoshal realised that his heart had always been in literature. That realisation led him to opt for English at college (Jadavpur University, Kolkata), which, in turn, was an important reason why he became interested in applying for the Rhodes scholarship.
“The process of application was relatively smooth, though I remember toiling hard to strike the right note in the essay,” says Ghoshal, who currently works as an Assistant Editor with The Telegraph in his home town Kolkata. He feels his impressive academic record coupled with the fact that he had been studying Hindustani classical music for several years and had a flair for creative writing must have helped him make the grade. Describing his experience of the interviews, Somak says, “I tried to have an amicable conversation with the panel instead of getting intimidated by it. I was careful not to exaggerate my achievements or to come across as over-confident.”
At Oxford, Ghoshal read for the second BA in English Language and Literature, a two-year course for senior students, at the end of which a BA (Hons) degree is conferred. He speaks fondly of his days at Oxford – the cosmopolitan atmosphere which welcomed students from across the globe and the experience of living away from home for the first time. “I was sometimes thrown into the deep end of things, but I did manage to learn a great deal, not just academically but also as a human being”.