CHINA: Who wants to be a billionaire?

China has a new university ranking - which institutions produce the largest number of billionaires and business tycoons.

The annual list compiled by the China University Alumni Association, the CUAA, this month released its analysis of the education of some 2,500 yuan billionaires (worth over US$150 million) who have appeared on five rich lists at home and abroad in the last decade.

Taking the top spots, Peking University boasts 79 billionaires among its alumni, Beijing's Tsinghua University 70, Zhejiang University 66, and Fudan University in Shanghai had 46 billionaire alumni.

Beijing's Renmin University and Shanghai's Jiaotong University also made the list, as did Nanjing University, and Sun Yat-Sen University and South China University of Technology, both in Guangzhou.

Association expert Cai Yanhou has pointed out that most of the country's billionaires graduated from top universities, the vast majority of them studying science and engineering. But it was the 'comprehensive' universities such as Peking, Tsinghua and Zhejiang, and not the technology institutions, that produced the most entrepreneurs.

The results are not surprising as the city of Beijing has the largest number of wealthy Chinese in the country followed by Shanghai, according to the widely read Hurun Wealth report, a rich list produced by a local monthly magazine. Many graduated from being millionaires to billionaires through property investment in those booming cities.

The list also shows that most billionaires studied at universities on China's eastern seaboard and live in its most developed cities. Around one in 10 of China's wealthiest individuals had degrees obtained at overseas universities.

But many of the wealthy have no university degree as a large number of China's estimated 50,000 billionaires came of age during and after the 1960-70s Cultural Revolution when universities were shut for almost a decade.

This is particularly true in southern China, which has a large concentration of industries producing for export, established since the 1980s - earlier than China's general economic opening.

Feng Yongjun of Xiamen University, an expert on China's alumni network, said the proportion of wealthy entrepreneurs who had higher education (around 63%) was in fact relatively low. This was because China's university enrolment had only been growing since 1999, so graduates only became a significant proportion of the population in the last 11 years.

Analysis by the alumni association showed that just over one in six of the wealthiest entrepreneurs held masters degrees including MBAs, and 3% held PhDs.

"The low number of doctoral degrees among business tycoons is very natural," Feng said. "Those with doctoral training are mainly engaged in research and teaching positions. In addition those with PhDs are close to 30 years old and prefer to enter more secure occupations such as research in higher education institutions, government departments, large state-owned enterprises etc."

Universities on the list have unashamedly been using the association 'ranking' to promote themselves, particularly in Hong Kong and other countries where they hope to attract students.

Most of them are also on the government's C9 list of institutions aiming to become world-class. They benefit from huge investment in facilities in order to attract more overseas students and top academics and researchers.

Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, close to Hong Kong, put out a press release on its website lauding 'student of the year' Pan Wenwei who had become a millionaire after graduation through "hard work, endeavour, courage and wisdom".

However, highlighting a purported link between wealth and particular universities has also sparked criticism. "Many university graduates [in China] cannot find jobs so they should not be promoting the universities as a path to riches. Many of China's millionaires became rich through guanxi (contacts) and not because of their degrees," said a Guangzhou university student who would only give her name as Mei.

She pointed out nonetheless that getting into a top university via high marks in the Gaokao, China's ferocious national university entrance examination, is still one of the few ways for students from the provinces to escape poverty.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, said: "The [association] report provides an angle to evaluate universities because alumni success reflects a university's educational quality."

But in remarks quoted by the Shanghai Daily he questioned whether their success was due to their education or their own efforts.

The association defended the list. "The report aims to encourage college students to set up their own enterprises and provide guidance to them," said Zhao Deguo, the editor-in-chief.