By Charles Hutzler for WSJ
Master’s program focuses more on cultivating leadership skills than academicsBEIJING—An unusual project in elite education is under way in Beijing, conceived by the billionaire co-founder of Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman, out of concern that populism could bring the U.S. and China to blows.
Mr. Schwarzman inaugurated the Schwarzman Scholars Master’s program in a newly constructed building that bears his name on the campus of Tsinghua University in Beijing on Saturday.
Congratulatory messages poured in from Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama, who also sent a video message, as did his secretary of state, John Kerry, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among other dignitaries.
The one-year program, which began last month, offers an immersion in China and is focuses more on cultivating leadership skills, than academics. Its first class of 110 students, from the U.S., China and elsewhere, includes software designers, a mayor of a Chinese city and a U.S. military serviceman who conducted his application interview via Skype from Iraq.
During times of global uncertainty and change, “you need people who can act quickly, decisively, logically,” and who aren’t timid, Mr. Schwarzman said in an interview this week.
China is a source of revenue and investment partners for Blackstone, which has $356 billion under management as of the end of June. Mr. Schwarzman donated $100 million from his own fortune for the Schwarzman program and grew its endowment through other donations to $435 million.
With access to top circles of Chinese business and government, Mr. Schwarzman said he sometimes serves as an “informal ambassador” between the U.S. and China. Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, who attended Saturday’s opening, acknowledged he serves in that role.
Mr. Schwarzman said he became alarmed about anticapitalist populism in the U.S. around the time of the financial crisis. Eventually, he said, China was likely to be targeted.
“I felt it would just be a matter of time before the populace would turn from the more traditional targets of the rich people and financial companies,” he said. China has drawn criticism for unfair trade practices in the current U.S. presidential election, a topic Mr. Schwarzman declined to discuss.
Students got an early taste of the rarified discussion they can expect late last month during a one-hour video-link Q&A session with former President George W. Bush, a friend of Mr. Schwarzman since they were students at Yale University. Other than to say the students asked tough questions, Mr. Schwarzman declined to give details on the discussion because Mr. Bush only agreed to speak off-the-record.
American and other foreign universities have come to China in droves in recent years to set up programs and even campuses. Increasingly they’ve run into a Chinese officialdom that has become more controlling, tightening censorship of the internet and clamping down on social activists. Meanwhile, state media portrays China in a war of ideas and values with the West, particularly the U.S.
Mr. Schwarzman said in its first few weeks, the project hasn’t experienced problems of censorship. He likened Schwarzman College, as the building that houses the program is known, to the special economic zones that were a test-bed of Chinese reforms. “We’re a special education zone,” he said.
Among the program’s advantages, he said, is that it’s not part of an established foreign school and its focus is on teaching about China.
“This is the first time in 200 years where instead of the Chinese leaving to get educated, the best and brightest of the West are coming to China for no reason other than to just understand China,” said Mr. Schwarzman. “This is a profound thing.”
First appeared at WSJ