College breaks ground in China to house $300 million scholarship program by Blackstone founder

BEIJING, China – Wall Street tycoon Stephen A. Schwarzman helped break ground Thursday on a college building in Beijing that will house a $300 million scholarship program bearing his name that is intended to rival the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships.

Accompanied by Chinese government and university officials, the founder of the private equity firm Blackstone turned a shovel at a ceremonial event on the campus of Tsinghua University. The first class of Schwarzman Scholars will study there in 2016.

Schwarzman said he’s setting up the program to train a new generation of global leaders with better understanding of China as the world’s geopolitics shift to the rising power.

“China is going to be, what I call it, a core curriculum for any educated person, any person who wants to be the global leader of their field,” he said.

China has welcomed the endowed program, which is the largest philanthropic gift with foreign money in China’s history. Beijing sees it as a nod to the country’s growing clout and hopes it will boost Tsinghua University’s standing among the world’s higher learning institutions.

The $300 million endowment will allow 200 students each year to take part in a one-year master’s program at Tsinghua — all expenses paid — in public policy, economics and business, international relations or engineering. Forty-five per cent of the students would come from the United States, 20 per cent from China and the rest from other parts of the world, and the classes would be taught in English, Schwarzman said.

Economist David Daokui Li, also dean of Schwarzman Scholars, said the program would be academically independent. “We should have free discussions and clashes of ideas with no restriction,” Li said.

Schwarzman has personally contributed $100 million to the program and is leading a campaign that has raised $160 million toward the $200 million goal.

He dismissed any suggestion that the gift is to advance his business interests in China. “If that were my objective, there would be a cheaper way to do it than putting up $100 million,” he said. “We already enjoy great relationship here in China.”

China Investment Corp., China’s main sovereign wealth fund, is an investor in Blackstone Corp.