Li Ka-shing stumps up US$14m for mainland tuition fees

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TOKYO (June 19): It’s Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s turn now to support university students, a month after US tycoon Robert F. Smith vowed to pay off loans of undergraduates in an American college.

The Li Ka-shing Foundation said it will pay tuition for all undergraduates in the incoming class of 2019 for four to five years at Shantou University in Guangdong, the southern Chinese province Li came from as a refugee to Hong Kong decades ago. The foundation has committed to an annual grant of 100 million yuan (US$14.5 million) to the university, it said in a June 16 statement.

The pledge by the city’s richest man, who turned a plastic flower business into a global empire spanning ports and property to telecommunications and retailing, is part of the philanthropic work his foundation has been doing globally. Since 1980, his organization has donated more than HK$25 billion (US$3.2 billion) to health care, education and religious causes, most of it in the greater China region, according to its website.

The foundation has also supported reforms at Shantou University with grants of more than HK$10 billion.

Li, whose net worth is about US$30 billion, retired in May 2018 and handed the top position at the family-controlled conglomerate to his eldest son Victor Li. Victor has stepped in as chairman of the group’s flagship companies CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd and CK Asset Holdings Ltd, while the father, now 90, remains a senior adviser to his business empire.

The grant comes weeks after Smith, founder of Vista Equity Partners, stunned students at Morehouse College by vowing to pay off the student loans of every member of the class of 2019. The school told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it will cost an estimated US$40 million to retire the debt of the graduating class, which totals about 400 students.