AT a business lunch at Newcastle City Hall on Friday, an expert on the future success of cities was telling his audience of the importance that international educational links at the University of Newcastle would play in the region’s future.
In a world where cities competed for the best and brightest of human capital, AECOM’s James Rosenwax said overseas collaborations - and the research and development benefits that they brought- would play a vital role in ensuring Newcastle kept pace with the world. It was an apposite moment for such an observation, for unbeknownst to Mr Rosenwax – and indeed to most of his audience – preparations were under way on the other side of King Street for a remarkable occasion a few hours later, when Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma took to the stage, in person, to confirm the creation of a $US20-million sponsorship program to recognise the importance of Newcastle’s role in his extraordinary life story.
As is becoming well known, Mr Ma has been friends with a Newcastle family, the Morleys, since he was a boy, and he credits their bringing him to Newcastle in 1985 for opening his eyes to the world.
“The culture, the landscape and most importantly its people had a profound positive impact on my view of the world at that time,” Mr Ma said on Friday.
“To honour the experience and the special relationship I formed with the Morley family, the Jack Ma Foundation is delighted to announce the Ma and Morley Scholarship Program that will inspire, educate and cultivate tomorrow’s leaders.”
Mr Ma’s association with Newcastle – which he called his second home town – can only help to spread the city’s message overseas.
International students have long played a major role in the campus life of Newcastle university and under Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen, the institution has taken conscious steps to lift its international profile, and to broaden its academic base by employing staff from around the world.
But Newcastle is a regional city, servicing a broad regional base, so it is pleasing to see that the Ma and Morley scholarship will help scholars from less advantaged backgrounds. The Alibaba Group founder was himself from a humble background, and Newcastle, it seems, gave him an opportunity. Now, he is passing that opportunity on to others.
And for that, we thank him.