Investor Discusses $100-Million Gift for New International College in China

Zheng Huansong, Xinhua News Agency, Redux

Stephen A. Schwarzman addresses the 2012 Tsinghua Management Global Forum at Tsinghua U., in Beijing, where he plans to set up an international master's-degree program serving students from the United States, China, and elsewhere.
April 25, 2013

As a professional investor, Stephen A. Schwarzman says that, to some extent, he makes his living from being able to predict the future. As he looks at the rise of China, he foresees trouble.

There's potential for economic, political, and even military clashes with the United States and other developed countries as the Asian nation's economy continues to expand, says Mr. Schwarzman, who is co-founder and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, a private-equity company.

"This was a major issue for me," he says. "I looked at it and said, We could address that problem through education."

To that end, Mr. Schwarzman has given $100-million to establish a scholarship program to send 200 students a year to study and live together in a new college at Tsinghua University, one of China's most prestigious universities. The program, which is modeled on the Rhodes scholarships, will choose top students to earn a master's degree at Tsinghua in one of four areas: public policy, business and economics, international relations, and engineering. The first class will start in 2016 and will draw an international cadre of students—45 percent from the United States, 20 percent from China, and the rest from other parts of the world.

In addition to his personal gift, the finance tycoon plans to raise $200-million from other donors; so far, half of that has been collected, with contributions from global corporations like BP, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Boeing. The funds will support the building of Schwarzman College at Tsinghua, where the scholarship recipients will live and take classes taught by professors from China and Western countries. The curriculum will be developed with input from academics at Harvard, Duke, Yale, and other elite American institutions.

Recently returned from Beijing, where he attended a ceremony to announce his gift at the Great Hall of the People, which included a speech by China's vice premier, Mr. Schwarzman spoke with The Chronicle about his new effort. Excerpts are below.

Q. What motivated you to make the gift?

A. The president of Tsinghua University asked me to consider trying to help it develop the ability to get more international students. I didn't respond to that right away because I wanted to figure out what the right model could be. I looked at the Rhodes program, where its students went back to their own countries and had enormous impact. A simple example would be Bill Clinton in the United States.

If we could have a similar type of impact by sending Rhodes-type qualified people to China, we could really have a practical chance at influencing the course of events in the world long after somebody like me is gone.

Q. How do you respond to those who say this isn't a purely philanthropic effort, that it will help you and the other donors increase your access to China's leaders?

A. We already have access to those people, so in that sense it's a bit redundant. This is being done because it's a good thing to do. Part of what makes me a good investor is, to some degree, being able to see the future and predict trends. I can see this trend of potential problems developing from the dramatically different growth rates between China and the developed world. That's the issue that I'm focused on, not anything else.

Q. What guarantees from Tsinghua have you received that Schwarzman College will have Western standards of academic freedom?

A. Tsinghua understands that you can't attract terrifically gifted people if they can't learn in the same type of environment that they're used to in the West. Part of China's strategic planning is to make their universities among the top level of the world, and I think they understand you can't do that without the adoption of some of the principles of the great universities in the West; one of those is the ability to have free expression and discussion in the classroom. So there's been no inhibition about that at all.

Q. Do you think U.S. universities are doing enough to prepare graduates for a world in which China will be a major player?

A. To some degree, higher education has been pretty adaptable. But the exchanges currently are quite unbalanced. There are almost 200,000 Chinese students going to American universities and approximately 26,000 American students going to China. It's like an eight-to-one imbalance.