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Blackstone boss backs $300 million Chinese university fund

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, gives a speech at a news conference for the launch of the Schwarzman Scholars
Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, gives a speech at a news conference for the launch of the Schwarzman Scholars

By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING (Reuters) - Blackstone Group Inc. founder Stephen Schwarzman will personally donate $100 million to a scholarship fund at China's Tsinghua University as part of the largest internationally funded philanthropic project in the country's history.

Schwarzman has already raised another $100 million from a group of mostly Western donors including BP Plc , Boeing Co. , General Electric Co. and hedge fund magnate Ray Dalio.

He's working to raise a further $100 million to fill out the program's planned $300 million endowment.

"The goal is to build the most prestigious and well-funded international scholarship program in the most populous country in the world," Schwarzman said.

Classes of 200 students recruited from the United States, China and other countries will study a specially designed curriculum in a one-year master's program.

Schwarzman unveiled the project, along with a scale model of a Qing Dynasty-style building to be built for students on the east side of Tsinghua's campus, in a ceremony on Sunday.

It was held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese government typically holds legislative sessions, and representatives read personal statements from U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Tsinghua University has trained many of China's top technocrats including Xi, who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering.

The planned amenities, which include a sunken garden, pub and fitness area, are a far cry from facilities at most Chinese universities, where students sleep six or eight to a room and eat in austere canteens where many meals cost less than a dollar.

Schwarzman said Tsinghua approached him with the idea for the project and spent years cajoling him. He called Tsinghua University's President Chen Jining "very persistent and very convincing".

In an interview with Reuters, Schwarzman said he recognized the possibility of restricted academic discourse because of political sensitivity.

"There ought to be a robust dialogue expected to occur," he said. "To the extent that there's not, that would be an instructive part of a student's education in China."

He said students would be held to Western academic standards and that all classes would be conducted in English.

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; editing by Jason Neely)

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