By Jane Cai
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma plans to donate US$20 million to fund a scholarship at an Australian university to honour a late friend from Newcastle, New South Wales.
The University of Newcastle announced the establishment of the scholarship on Friday, funded by Alibaba founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, through the Jack Ma Foundation. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.
The launch of the scholarship comes as the company prepares to open its regional headquarters for Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne on Saturday, Xinhua reported.
The scholarship programme, which is the largest philanthropic commitment in the university’s history and the Jack Ma Foundation’s first philanthropic contribution in Australia, pays tribute to Ma’s close personal connection to Newcastle, the university said.
In 1980, when China was in the initial stage of opening up to the world, Ma met Ken Morley, whose family was on a tour with the Australia-China Friendship Society in Ma’s hometown of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
Ma, who later became an English teacher before founding the e-commerce platform Alibaba, asked if he could talk to Morley to practise his English.
Ma and Morley remained close friends until Morley’s death in 2004.
Ma said, “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.
“Through this remarkable friendship spanning decades, a new generation of talented students will have the opportunity to reach their full personal and professional potential,” she said.
At full capacity, the programme will support 90 students each year.
Ken Morley’s son David, who still lives in Newcastle, said the family is happy to see Jack remember his Newcastle connection and honour his father’s egalitarian values through the scholarship programme.