A close friendship between a Chinese billionaire and a Newcastle family has led to the largest ever donation to the University of Newcastle.
Jack Ma, the founder of the internet company Alibaba, will give US$20 million, or more than Australian $26 million, to fund a scholarship program.
Mr Ma has travelled to Newcastle to announce the scholarship program in a ceremony late Friday afternoon.
“That he views this as so significant, so important to him, that he would personally come to be here is a really strong symbol,” the University of Newcastle’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, said.
The donation by the man estimated by Forbes to be worth US$28.4 billion, or more than Australian $37 billion, is to honour his friendship with Newcastle’s Morley family, who he met as a teenager in his home city of Hangzhou in 1980. He approached a boy about his age, David Morley, to practise his English, and from there a bond with the family grew.
The Morleys brought Jack Ma to Australia in 1985 for his first visit. Mr Ma has credited the father, Ken Morley, with being an influential figure in his life, and he has returned to Newcastle to see the family several times, including a visit to an ailing Mr Morley prior to his death in 2004.
“I am very thankful for Australia and the time I spent there in my youth,” Mr Ma said in a statement before the ceremony. “The culture, the landscape and most importantly its people had a profound positive impact on my view of the world at that time.”
“To honour the experience and the special relationship I formed with the Morley family, the Jack Ma Foundation is delighted to announce The Ma & Morley Scholarship Program that will inspire, educate and cultivate tomorrow’s leaders.”
Professor McMillen said the university had been working with the Jack Ma Foundation for about a year to shape a program “that really represents the quality of that friendship, that really unique friendship, between Jack Ma and Ken Morley”.
When The Ma and Morley Scholarship Program reached full capacity, it would support 90 students a year. The program would be advertised from the middle of this year, and Professor McMillen said the recipients would include students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds and indigenous scholars.
“At the heart of this philanthropic commitment is the most remarkable story of friendship,” Professor McMillen said.
David Morley said his father “would be moved to tears” by Jack Ma’s donation, and the reasons behind it.