Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has praised the Jewish philanthropists whose donations helped Oxford University expand a prestigious scholarship programme to include Israelis for the first time.

At a meeting at the president’s Jerusalem residence, two Israeli students who will be going to study at Oxford met Canadian couple Larry and Judy Tanenbaum, whose funding for the 113-year old Rhodes Trust made it possible.

Rivlin said he hoped Maayan Roichman and Nadav Lidor would be the first of many Rhodes Scholars, as the programme’s expansion now allows Israel to be considered as a candidate country, adding: “Oxford is more than just a university. It is an idea.”

The geographic expansion takes the total number of annual scholarships from 83 to 95, and now includes candidates from Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Syria, the Palestinian Territories, United Arab Emirates and West Africa.

Addressing representatives, he said: “Your decision to add Israeli students is very important. Wherever I travel in the world, I see the admiration for Israel for our education system, and our achievements in innovation, and as the start-up nation. Without natural resources we have had to develop and invest in human resources, and we are very proud of what we have achieved.”

Rivlin praised Oxford University for opening a Tel Aviv office – the first major university to do so – adding that this was “an answer to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”.

Rhodes Trust chief executive Charles Conn said: “We have long wanted to have scholars from Israel, and we are thankful to all those who have helped us achieve this… We are working so that this will be an annual occurrence.”