Blackstone founder creates $300 million China scholarship

A U.S. private equity tycoon on Sunday announced the establishment of a $300 million endowed scholarship program in China for students from around the world, billing it as a rival to the Rhodes Scholarship.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder of the private equity firm Blackstone, said he would give $100 million as a personal gift and raise an additional $200 million to endow the Schwarzman Scholars program at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. It will be the largest philanthropic gift with foreign money in China’s history, according to the tycoon and the university.

The Wall Street mogul said China’s rapid economic growth and rising global influence would define the 21st century, as U.S. ties to Europe did in the 20th century — when the Rhodes Scholarship was created at Oxford University with the goal of producing outstanding leaders.

“China is no longer an elective course, it’s core curriculum,” Schwarzman said in Beijing.

By partnering with the prestigious Chinese university, Schwarzman said he hoped the educational program would train future world leaders and play a positive role in relations between China and the United States.

“For future geopolitical stability and global prosperity, we need to build a culture of greater trust and understanding between China, America and the rest of the world,” he said.

Tsinghua — known for its engineering programs but in the midst of developing comprehensive academic offerings — also has produced many of China’s senior leaders, who have traditionally been technocrats. It is the alma mater of President Xi Jinping and former president Hu Jintao.

The $300 million endowment will allow 200 students a year to take part in a one-year master’s program in public policy, economics and business, international relations or engineering, with the first class of students scheduled to start in 2016. Schwarzman said 45 percent of the students would come from the United States, 20 percent from China and the rest from other parts of the world.

Schwarzman said that in the past six months, $100 million has been raised from private donors.

Both President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping sent congratulatory letters, which were read aloud at the announcement ceremony at the Great Hall of the People — China’s symbolic heart of political power.

The program’s advisory board includes former world leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Tony Blair, Canada’s Brian Mulroney and Australia’s Kevin Rudd. Former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice are also on the board, as is renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Schwarzman said the program would be jointly governed by the Schwarzman Education Foundation and Tsinghua University on matters including curriculum and faculty.

Schwarzman said he believes that the program will enjoy the academic freedoms of any Western educational institution and that no topic will be off-limits in the classrooms at the Schwarzman College, which is to be built on the Tsinghua campus.

— Associated Press

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