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Spate of donations to UK universities from philanthropists

A £20 million (US$32 million) donation to King's College London by a Hong Kong businessman, announced this week, is the latest in a spate of contributions by Hong Kong philanthropists to universities in the United Kingdom.

The donation from Dickson Poon (pictured) is the biggest from an individual in King's College history and the largest to any single law faculty in Europe.

The institution will extend its school of law in central London to enable it to tackle transnational law – thinking beyond particular national jurisdictions and global solutions to the world’s legal challenges, a King's College spokesperson said.

The donation is part of a matching commitment to set up the £40 million law school and includes a scholarship programme that will reserve 15 of the 75 scholarships to be set up by the gift, for students resident in Hong Kong.

The new law school will be renamed the Dickson Poon School of Law.

Poon, a UK-educated anglophile who owns a major London department store, also donated £10 million to the University of Oxford two years ago to help set up a new China centre at the university. Construction is due to start this year.

To be called the Dickson Poon China Centre, it has ambitions eventually to become the largest centre for research and studies on China outside China itself.

Another Hong Kong businessman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, former chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, has also donated large sums to Oxford – whose chancellor is Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British governor before the colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

Last year the Walter Kwok Foundation pledged £100,000 to set up a scholarship for Hong Kong students to study politics at Oxford. It has plans to offer more scholarships and is hoping to sponsor a joint undergraduate degree programme between Oxford and the University of Hong Kong.

“The reason why I chose to partner with UK universities is because Hong Kong inherited its entire legal system from Britain,” Kwok is quoted as saying. He has also donated to Cambridge and Imperial College, London.

Asia’s second richest man, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-Shing, well known for major university donations in several countries, donated £5 million to Oxford 18 months ago for research into infectious diseases in Asia.

The main focus of Li’s donations is normally China and Hong Kong. He set a record in Asia with a US$180 million donation to the University of Hong Kong in 2005. He has also donated US$40 million to the University of California, Berkeley.

More recently Li provided major funding to set up the new Cheung Kong Business School branch in London – dubbed China’s first overseas campus. It is named after Li’s company Cheung Kong, although the exact figures involved have not been revealed.

Outside the limelight of the big-name universities, smaller donations have been pouring into other UK universities from Hong Kong and Chinese alumni.

Kennedy Wong, a Hong Kong-based alumnus of Kent Law School, will make a £500,000 donation over the next five years as part of a major fundraising initiative by the university to develop its legal studies facilities. The donation is the single largest philanthropic alumni gift ever received by the university.

And the London School of Economics has received more than £700,000 in the past two years from Hong Kong donors.

According to the Ross-CASE survey of donations to UK higher education institutions in 2009-10, released last October (the latest figures available), UK universities received more than £500 million in philanthropic cash income, 80% of it from alumni.

But not all philanthropic donations from China and Hong Kong are trouble-free. Cambridge University found itself criticised for accepting a £3.7 million donation from an unknown mainland Chinese organisation late last year.

The secretive Chong Hua foundation, which has no website or official listing anywhere in Britain or China, according to The Daily Telegraph which reported the story, has endowed a chair in Chinese development studies in the department of politics and international studies.

Cambridge said an investigation into the Chong Hua donation did “not identify any link between this private foundation and the Chinese government”.

Related Links
The rise of higher education philanthropy
Donations to universities defy economic downturn
LSE director resigns over Gaddafi donation
Charity not beginning at home for universities
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