Blackstone Group Chairman Stephen Schwarzman is launching a U.S. $300 million scholarship that will allow foreign students to attend Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University, known for grooming many top Chinese officials from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping and, according to Forbes, for its exceedingly beautiful campus, set on a former Qing Dynasty royal garden dotted by imperial courtyards and ponds.
"China's economy is growing at three times the rate of the West, and if that growth continues, China will become the largest economy in the world within the next couple of decades," Schwarzman said prior to the launch of the fund on Sunday.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In the same spirit as the Rhodes Scholarship program launched in 1902 by Cecil J. Rhodes at the University of Oxford – which each year sends 32 American students across the pond to England – the Schwarzman Scholars program will seek to enhance understanding between China and students from the U.S., Europe, South Korea, Japan, India and beyond.
Schwarzman, who ranks no. 163 on the Bloomberg Billionaires list and is worth U.S. $7.3 billion, is pouring U.S. $100 million of his own wealth into the fund and hopes to raise an additional U.S. $200 million via outside sponsorship. He’s already halfway there with vows of support from a number of Western firms involved in China, from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Boeing to Caterpillar and General Electric.
Advisers on the scholarship board include heavy hitting officials like former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, past-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, as well as famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
China’s economy has quadrupled in size over the past decade, climbing at an average of 10.6 percent annually in the ten years to 2011, before dipping slightly to 7.8 percent in 2012. Today the People’s Republic is both the second-largest economy and America’s second-largest trading partner. Trade flows between the U.S. and China totaled U.S. $536.2 billion in 2012, with the deficit on the U.S. side hitting U.S. $315 billion. China continues to restrict American makers of automobiles, steel and beef from accessing its 1.3 billion potential consumers.
Meanwhile, many remain concerned over Beijing’s human rights record, its alleged hacking efforts, as well as the ongoing diplomatic rows with its East Asian neighbors over disputed territory and historical grievances. In short, the need for mutual understanding is greater than ever today.
“Disproportionate levels of growth often create global imbalances and tensions, which will need to be addressed in the decades ahead,” Schwarzman said. “For the West, this means developing a far richer and more nuanced understanding of China's social, political and economic context.”
In response to a question over the possibility of restrictions on academic freedom on politically sensitive matters, Schwarzman told Reuters, “There ought to be a robust dialogue expected to occur. To the extent that there's not, that would be an instructive part of a student's education in China.”
For many years now, Chinese students have flocked to the U.S. and other Western countries. This reality was brought to the headlines last week when it was revealed that one of the three victims who died in the tragic Boston bombing was a Chinese graduate student named Lu Lingzi at Boston University. In turn, Lu’s tragic death and the subsequent outpouring of sympathy and grief have unnerved many Chinese students in the U.S..
Chinese students account for the main driving force in international student numbers in the U.S., which hit an astronomical 764,495 in 2011, a 5.7-percent rise over the previous year. Chinese account for 14 percent of international students from anywhere on the globe, according to the Center for China and Globalization and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Many Chinese – 272,000 in 2012 – turn out to become what are known as “sea turtles,” the name given to those who return to China and working for global firms on home turf, where their global perspective from their time as students overseas provides them with an edge.
But, as Schwarzman’s new scholarship suggests, the flow is no longer one way. According to the official website of Tsinghua University, more than 3,530 international students – 1,250 of them graduate students – are enrolled in programs at the prestigious institution for its 2012-2013 academic year. On the national level China hopes to raise the total number of foreign students in its universities to 500,000 by 2020, up from 290,000 in 2011.
As Schwarzman sees it, this increase in trans-Pacific student traffic has only positive things in store for both sides: "A win-win relationship of mutual respect between the West and China is vital, benefiting Asia and the rest of the world, and enhancing economic ties that could lead to a new era of mutual prosperity."