Scholars start program that explains China

Stephen Schwarzman, left, founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, talks with China's Vice Premier Liu Yandong during a group photo at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. A new scholarship program intended to rival the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships and build understanding between China and the world opened its doors at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University on Saturday. Photo: Shanghai Daily

A scholarship program intended to build understanding between China and the world has been launched at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

The program, founded by Wall Street tycoon Stephen Schwarzman, covers all expenses for students in a one-year master’s degree program that will also emphasize cultural immersion, travel around China, and attempt to understand the world’s second-largest economy and rising superpower.

Chosen from more than 3,000 applicants, the 110 Schwarzman scholars represent 32 countries, with 44 percent from the United States and 21 percent from China.

In an interview, Schwarzman, the founder of the giant private equity firm Blackstone, said the program had sought out students who were not just talented, but creative and insightful, with strong leadership and communications skills.

Drawn from the sciences, business and the military, they would go on to be “people of influence” who can explain China to the world and the world to China, he said.

Blackstone counts Chinese institutions and individuals as an important and growing source of revenue. “In terms of overall touch, we’re by far the largest manager of alternative assets for Chinese institutions investing around the world,” Schwarzman said. But the scholarship program “has nothing to do with the business,” he said. “In a world of populism and strong views on the Internet, there need to be people who can explain such complex issues.”

Schwarzman said the program fit perfectly with President Xi Jinping’s call to elevate at least two Chinese universities into the top global rankings in coming years.

“We’re in the sweet spot of what China is trying to do,” Schwarzman said.

The scholarship program aims for an endowment of US$450 million, of which US$200 million has already been raised from private sources, including a US$100 million gift from Schwarzman, a co-founder of Blackstone Group.

Students will live in the Schwarzman College, a building designed by Robert Stern, dean of Yale University’s architecture school, and based on residential buildings at Yale, Harvard, Oxford and other elite schools.

Members of the program’s advisory board include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

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