SYDNEY — Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s past connections to Australia have been well-documented, but on Friday he had a surprise gift for Newcastle, where he spent time as a teenager.
Ma, the second wealthiest man in China, gave $26.4 million to set up a scholarship at the University of Newcastle.
Long before he became a tech billionaire, Ma, as a 12-year-old boy, befriended the Morley family from Newcastle that was visiting his hometown of Hangzhou. He later visited the family in Australia as a teenager in the 1980s.
He said that the time he spent in Newcastle changed his view of China and its relationship with the world.
“I am very thankful for Australia and the time I spent there in my youth. The culture, the landscape and most importantly its people had a profound positive impact on my view of the world at that time,” he said on Friday.
The Ma & Morley Scholarship Program will establish networks between the two countries as well as “practical training” for its beneficiaries to “equip them for leadership in the global environment”.
The university announced that students would be selected based on their commitment to “cross-cultural understanding”, “social justice and equity”, ethical entrepreneurship and the environment.
“Alibaba was built by young people and we are committed to lifting up and empowering students so they can reach their dreams and ambitions,” Ma said.
For the first cohort next year, 30 scholars will be chosen, consisting of 20 that will be supported throughout their degree and 10 one-off grants to assist exchange, internship or practical activities. Eventually, the program will ramp up to 90 scholarship holders at any given time.
The program will prioritise students from disadvantaged and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.
Ma was joined in Newcastle by the NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, University of Newcastle chancellor Paul Jeans, vice-chancellor Caroline McMillen and David Morley to announce the scholarship.
Family patriarch Ken Morley, who Ma credits as a significant influence, passed away in 2004. His son David said his father would be “happy” to see Ma remember Newcastle.
“Dad would be extremely proud of Jack’s commitment to making a difference to students in our hometown, and so touched that their close friendship has led to this program, which will transform the futures of hundreds of University of Newcastle students, to hopefully do good things in the world,” Morley said.