Pan Shiyi and wife: goal is to help promising students
Chinese real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi stated Wednesday that a $15 million donation to Harvard University made by his foundation will only be used for scholarships to underprivileged Chinese students who have been admitted to the world-class university, amid wide questioning of the motivations for the gift.
Pan and his wife, Zhang Xin, signed a $15 million donation agreement with Harvard University President Drew Faust on July 15 on behalf of SOHO China Foundation, a charity founded by the couple in 2005.
The foundation aims to donate a total of $100 million in the future, with Harvard being only a first step. It hopes to ease financial concerns for poor but promising Chinese students who want to apply to leading universities around the world, according to its statement.
However, the donation has triggered widespread questioning by the Chinese public. Many have asked why the rich businessman chose to donate to a private foreign university instead of supporting poor students at home, or helping domestic universities to improve the quality of their education.
The scholarship will only be available for students who have been admitted to Harvard and whose annual household income is below 65,000 yuan ($10,493), Zhang Xin was previously quoted as saying by caixin.com.
Per capita disposable income for Chinese urban residents in 2013 was 26,955 yuan, while per capita net income for rural residents was 8,896 yuan, according to official data.
Many Web users argued that most Chinese students who "dare" to apply to such prestigious universities tend to come from wealthier family backgrounds. Some also speculated that the rich couple might be using the donation to help create a talent pipeline for their company.
Zhang Xin responded to the criticism on Sina Weibo, saying that they hope to promote education equality by making it possible for students not from rich families to afford a good education, and that they would not require sponsored students to work at their company.
A similar controversy ensued in 2010 after Zhang Lei, a Chinese financier who earned his MBA at Yale's School of Management, donated $8,888,888 to Yale, which he said had "changed his life," instead of to the Renmin University of China, his motherland alma mater.
Several overseas students reached by the Global Times said that they did have difficulties seeking external sponsorship when their scholarships proved insufficient, especially from Chinese organizations.
On its website, the SOHO China Foundation lists a number of domestic education programs, such as building schools in poor regions of Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
"Pan's donation will also encourage universities like Harvard to accept more Chinese students," Wang Huiyao, president of the China Global Talents Society told the Global Times on Thursday, adding that Pan's move might inspire more Chinese entrepreneurs to invest in China's higher education.