Although, in the aftermath of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert had expressed the hope that a system of scholarships could be established, it was not until 1891 that the Commission were in a financial position to bring this to fruition. In that year the Commission introduced its Science Research Scholarships whereby certain universities in the UK and throughout the Empire were able to make nominations to the £150 a year scholarships. These were awarded to students who had "passed through a university curriculum" and had a "capacity for original research." The awards were held for two years with a possible extension for a third, and were to be held in a different university to the one making the nomination.
This award scheme continued largely unaltered until 1922 by which stage provision for teaching research methods was being addressed elsewhere and many more universities were asking to be included in the scheme. The Board made the decision to develop two parallel schemes; the Senior Studentships (called Research Fellowships from 1967) and the Overseas Scholarships. Senior Studentships were open to applicants from all universities in the UK for two years' research. Scientists were appointed at post-doctoral level and engineers at least at post-graduate level. Overseas Scholarships continued until 1988 when they were discontinued and Research Fellowships were opened to overseas applicants.
1911 saw the introduction of three new fellowships. Naval Architecture Scholarships, to stimulate education in this important industry, continued until 1969 by which time it had become increasingly difficult to attract applicants, Rome Scholarships for the study of fine art at the British School in Rome, continued until 1987 and Industrial Bursaries, to aid in the engineering training of university-educated men who were likely to become future leaders of industry. The latter were awarded until 1939.
The late 1960s - 1980s saw the Commission introduce a number of experimental awards. The first of these short lived awards was a scheme run jointly with the Council of Engineering Institutions from 1968 - 1971 to second engineers to universities. There followed two schemes launched in 1980. One was an Industrial Bursary with Imperial College and the Royal College of Art to admit engineering graduates to a two year industrial design course at the RCA and the second was in the form of two Research Fellowships to enable engineers with industrial experience to work at Cranfield Institute of Technology and the Royal College of Art.
At the Board meeting in December 1987 major changes to the awards scheme were made when the two new awards of Industrial Fellowships and Industrial Design Fellowships were introduced. These were first awarded in 1990. The former were for applicants with degrees in engineering or science with the requirement that they work simultaneously in British industry and with a university on a project of prospective commercial significance. The latter for applicants who wished to develop their capabilities in industrial design.
In 1996 the Fellowship in the Built Environment was launched, and in 2006 the Design Fellowship were introduced. These fellowships are awarded in alternate years.
Since 2005 one of the Industrial Bursaries has been designated the ERA Foundation Fellowship and is reserved specifically for work in the electro-technology sector and since 2007 one of the Research Fellowships has been designated the Brunel Fellowship, reserved for work in an academic engineering environment.
Examples of Famous Alumni
Science Research Scholar - Ernest Rutherford held an 1851 Science Research Scholarship 1895 - 1898. This enabled him to move from his native New Zealand to study at Cambridge. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for "his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances". He became a member of the Royal Order of Merit in 1925, from 1925 - 1930 he was President of the Royal Society and he was awarded a peerage in 1931. He was an 1851 Commissioner from 1921 until his death in 1937.
Industrial Bursar - John Cockcroft held an 1851 Industrial Bursary from 1920 - 1922. His industrial bursary enabled him to undertake an apprenticeship with Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company. Cockcroft went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1951 with E T S Watson, an 1851 Overseas Scholar, for their work on the "transmutation of the atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles." He became a member of the Royal Order of Merit in 1957.
Overseas Scholar - John Cornforth held an 1851 Overseas Scholarship from 1939 - 1942. This enabled him to move from Australia to Oxford along with Rita Harradence, his future wife, who was also an 1851 Overseas Scholar. In Oxford they worked on Penicillin with Robert Robinson. Cornforth's later career took him to the Medical Research Council, Shell Research and Sussex University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1975 "for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions."
Research Fellow - Alexander Todd was an 1851 Research Fellow 1931 - 1934. In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry "for his work on nucleotides and nucleotide co-enzymes". He was President of the Royal Society from 1975 - 1980 and became a member of the Royal Order of Merit in 1977. He was elevated to the peerage in 1962. He was a member of the Commission's Science Scholarship Committee in the 1950s and 1960s.