The Schwarzman China Scholarships – A good idea?

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

By Mihael Willman

On April 21, Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder and CEO of Blackstone Group, ranked in 2011 as the fifth largest private equity firm in the world, announced he was creating a $300 million scholarship program at Tsinghua University in China, towards which he was donating $100 million of his own money. The scholarships are for a one year, English-language master’s program, to be granted to 200 students a year over fifty years. Of these, 45 per cent are to come from America, 20 per cent from China and the remainder from the rest of the world, excluding Africa.

Since the announcement, an intensive search of the internet shows that little has been written about this program, pro or con, besides variations of Schwarzman’s own statement or press release. Though business publications such as “Forbes” were effusive in their praise of the program. Criticism of any kind, particularly in the media, is almost non-existent. The only exception is an article by Stephanie Zawada on “Catholic Online,” which calls on students to boycott the program until such time as China respects human rights. Raising the issue of organ harvesting, mass executions, forced abortions, persecution of Christians and Falun Gong members, and imprisonment of journalists critical of the regime, as well as Washington’s silence on the question of Chinese human rights, she calls on students to take up the cause by boycotting study programs in China.

How did the scholarship program come about? The idea for the program was proposed to Schwarzman by Tsinghua University, not the other way around. In 2007, China’s sovereign wealth fund, the China Investment Corporation, bought 9.9 per cent of Blackstone’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) for $3 billion. The 2008 economic crisis caused the value of the fund to fall. It has since recovered, though not to the 2007 purchase price. Soon after the purchase, Schwarzman was appointed to Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management advisory board. At this time he was approached about setting up a scholarship program at Tsinghua to attract foreign students, by the university’s president, and seems to have been amenable to the idea from the start.

Schwarzman explained his decision to set up the scholarship program in China because of the shift of economic power towards Asia. He was convinced that China’s growth, at a time the West was experiencing a recession, “would create frustration in the West, and frustration would lead to anger, and that anger can lead to trade problems, and ultimately to military confrontation.” Rather simplistically he seems to place the burden of responsibility for any potential future conflict with China squarely on the West, due to a lack of proper understanding of China. The possibility that political agendas of the Chinese Communist Party and government might lead to a future military confrontation, for reasons totally unrelated to trade or the economy, isn’t even considered by Schwarzman.

“I could see the negative attitudes that people had toward China were bubbling.” And to change this Western attitude and reduce tensions it is necessary to educate “the world’s future leaders, who will form an international network that can bridge differences between China and the West.” Apparently it is the United States and the West which has to come to understand China and not the other way around. And among this future generation of political and business leaders, Schwarzman hopes will be a future president of the United States.

Reading Schwarzman’s interviews or press releases makes it hard to know what he is: a naive do-gooder, or a “useful tool” of the Chinese Communist government? With a 50 year life, the Schwarzman scholarships are a longterm plan attempting to change U.S.-China policy. He seems to hope his program will create a political elite, whose personal friendships will influence political decisions. In the words of the press release: “Leveraging the world-class resources and talented people at Tsinghua University, one of China’s most prestigious universities, the program will bring together an exceptional group of students who, we hope, will one day have the power to change the course of history.”

In an interview with Evan Osnos, reported in the “New Yorker” Apr. 26, 2013, Schwarzman said: “The third thing that I thought was really essential was to assign a mentor to each kid from the real world, in an area of their interest. So if they were involved with law, for example, you get them the head of the largest law firm in Beijing, you go to the law firm, you meet people, they tell you how law works here compared to law in their home country.”

What can China possibly teach foreign students about law? How not to defend a client already found to be quilty and sentenced by the Communist Party before the trial has even begun? Or how to defend Communist party officials or favored government insiders caught in illegal activities, such as organ trafficking, financial fraud, corruption and the kidnapping of children for foreign adoptions, to name just a few well-publicized criminal activities of recent years?

Numerous questions arise regarding this scholarship program. What does it really want to achieve? Will Chinese graduates of this program have easier access to careers in American or international corporations? Who will get chosen, and how? Will Chinese students be chosen on the basis of true academic abilities, or will the children of the political and economic elite be the only ones to qualify? Who will be monitoring the studies and assigning grades for the Schwarzman scholars at Tsinghau University?

We have already seen reports of how many Chinese students cheat on the “Test of English as a Foreign Language” (TOEFL) to get into major American universities. The “Epoch Times” reported how thousands of Chinese students use various methods, such as paying doubles to take the test in China, buying the answers or using a company to feed them the questions and answers in order to score well, or higher, on this test. According to the reporters “Behind the simple transaction of paying the fee and getting the questions has sprung up a veritable industry in China.” A search of the Chinese internet, by the “Epoch Times” reporters, found hundreds of sellers offering ways to beat these entrance tests. This may seem harmless to some, but higher scores on TOEFL can mean scholarships for Chinese foreign students at the expense of domestic students. Having cheated to gain admission to a prestigious American university, what is to stop these same Chinese students from cheating all the way to a prestigious American university degree?

We have also seen how degrees from Canada’s Douglas College China program, in Harbin and Shanghai, are not worth the paper they are printed on. Global TV’s investigative program “16×9” investigated complaints from Douglas’ Canadian professors in China on how students who had been failed by them had their grades reversed by the Chinese administrators. No matter how incompetent a student, he was passed. The thinking being “it was the teacher’s fault, if the student didn’t learn anything.” So a student who couldn’t manage to learn even a few basic English words during four years of an English-language course, received a pass and a degree from a Canadian college! This lack of academic integrity has effectively cheapened the value of Douglas College’s Canadian degrees. Is this the kind of academic integrity we can expect in connection with the Schwarzman Scholarships?

According to the press release, Tsinghau University is described as “one of China’s most prestigious universities, dedicated to academic excellence and integrity, and the interaction between Chinese and Western cultures.” Schwarzman has promised that scholarship students will enjoy Western-style academic freedom. Can one expect this from a university which doesn’t even acknowledge the truth of its own past? Though its website mentions that it was founded in 1911, with partial funding from the “Gengzi Indemnity” or “Boxer Indemnity”, there is no mention that the individual actually responsible was U.S. President Roosevelt. At Roosevelt’s suggestion, the $30 million U.S. indemnity following the Boxer Rebellion, was reduced to $20 million, on condition it be used for scholarships to enable Chinese students to study in the United States. In 1911, Tsinghau College was established using this fund, while the faculty was recruited from the United States.

Another glaring omission concerns information on the years during the Cultural Revolution. It is as if nothing of interest occurred between 1952 and 1978. There is no mention of the fact that, in June 1966, the Middle School or high school attached to the University was the birthplace of the Red Guards, while the university itself served as a training ground for Red Guards from around China. The administration was accused of: “harboring intellectual elitism and bourgeois tendencies”, teachers were attacked and beaten, while “suspect” students at both the Middle School and the university were beaten by Red Guards. Eventually, elite units of the Red Guard from various institutions, including Tsinghua, spread out throughout China to organize local people for assaults on the Communist Party apparatus.

Stephen Schwarzman wants his scholarship program to rival that of Oxford’s Rhodes scholarship. But unlike Oxford University, which more than one hundred years after the establishment of the Rhodes scholarship is the tenth ranked world university, according to the “Academic Ranking of World Universities” compiled by Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tsinghua University is tied for 151st place with fifty other universities. Why would someone want to attend this university, if they have the marks to be accepted to the top 100 world universities?

This is Part one of a column which was split for reasons of size.  Part two is tentatively titled “Who is Stephen Schwarzman, and the people connected to the scholarship”.

See Part 2 of this series, “Stephen Schwarzman and the Schwarzman Scholarship advisors”, here.