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    Xiaomi CEO Makes Largest Ever Single Donation to Leading Chinese University

    Education has consistently been a top destination for the donations of mega-rich Chinese philanthropists, with most of the money going towards elite universities.
    Nov 30, 2023#charity#education

    Xiaomi Group founder and CEO Lei Jun has donated 1.3 billion yuan ($182.5 million) to his alma mater Wuhan University, the largest ever individual donation to a university in China.

    At the university’s endowment ceremony on Wednesday, Lei said the donation will mainly be used to support research in six “major disciplines,” including mathematics, philosophy, and literature, and support the university’s computer science offerings.

    Lei co-founded consumer electronics company Xiaomi in 2010, now the third-largest smartphone company in the world by global shipments, behind Samsung and Apple.

    Lei is the 34th richest person in China, with an estimated $12.9 billion in assets, according to the 2023 Hurun China Rich List. He received a bachelor’s degree from the School of Computer Science at Wuhan University in 1991.

    China’s higher education system is dominated by public universities, which rely mainly on financial allocations from the government. The Ministry of Education has encouraged universities to broaden their sources of funding, including from alumni donations.

    One of China’s top universities, Wuhan University, in the central Hubei province, ranks eighth in the country according to the latest QS University Rankings. The university is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year.

    The university received more than 260 million yuan in donations in 2022, accounting for just 2% of its annual budgeted income. 

    According to the latest report from the China Charity Alliance, more than 45 billion yuan was donated towards educational causes in the country in 2020, quadruple the amount in 2011. 

    Education accounted for 21.58% of overall philanthropic donations, making it one of the top recipients of donations in China.

    Li Zhilin, director of Charity Box, a Chinese charity evaluator, told Sixth Tone that there is a “significant mismatch in resource allocation” as most of the donations go to the top universities rather than those in most need, such as vocational colleges.

    A 2022 report released by a philanthropy consulting company found that universities’ endowments are closely tied to their prestige, with 84% of donations to universities going to a “double first-class” university, China’s elite group of around 140 universities.

    “Although there are a lot of donations for educational causes … the amount of funds that are actually used to help disadvantaged groups is still very small,” said Li, citing the “Matthew principle” whereby rich universities get even richer through their elite alumni.

    At Wednesday’s endowment ceremony, Lei said his motivation for the donation was to pay back the scholarship of 2,000 yuan he received when he was a Wuhan University student and the fact that he had classes in a building donated by Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong philanthropist.

    According to the University, Lei has been donating to his alma mater since 1997, with his previous donations totaling 130 million yuan. A building for teaching and researching artificial intelligence funded by him came into use in June.

    Other universities have also received large donations from mega-rich donors this year. In September, Shenzhen University in southern China received over 1 billion yuan in financial and material donations from various companies and entrepreneurs. In October, Zhao Yan, chairman of biotech company Huaxi Bio, donated stocks with a market value of more than 400 million yuan to Shandong University.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: Lei Jun gives a speech at the 2023 graduation ceremony of Wuhan University in Wuhan, Hubei province, June 20, 2023. IC)