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At first glance, China’s forthcoming Schwarzman Scholars bears similarities with the New Colombo Plan. Students will be 18-28 years old. They will undertake an internship and be allocated a mentor. They will be selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants.

But then I realised the two couldn’t be further apart.

Donors have a different ‘product’ in mind here than most government scholarships. Worth $350 million, Schwarzman Scholars is the product of private enterprise, funded by the likes of Walt Disney, Boeing, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Dow, General Electric and BP, plus the founder and namesake himself, Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group. Schwarman announced the initiative in April 2013, saying it would,

Develop a real and full understanding of each other’s cultures among the next generations of business and political leaders.

It’s status is also elevated by honorary advisory board members including Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, Christine Lagarde, Kevin Rudd and Henry Kissinger.

Applications for the 2016-17 academic year will open next April. Successful applicants to Schwarzman Scholars will have the option of selecting one of three disciplines: international relations, public policy, or economics and business. No matter where students choose to specialise, they will also undertake core courses, including a subject that teaches management and leadership skills. Schwarzman’s academic program is being developed in collaboration experts from with Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Duke and Princeton. As a one-year degree, it seems considerably shorter than other Master’s taught at Tsinghua University, but I’ve been told that the talented pool of students will make for some accelerated learning.

All courses will be taught at Schwarzman College, which is currently under construction. This state-of-the-art learning environment will shield students and faculty staff from the smog of Beijing through an air and water filtration system; it is also a residential college with single dormitory accommodation. All classes will be taught in English, and students will be offered Mandarin language training to help navigate their life while in China.

I suspect that English also will be the medium language of communication between classmates, given that the enrolment quotas require 45% of Schwarzman Scholars to be from the U.S. and another 35% of applicants from outside the U.S., with the remaining 20% coming from within China itself. Once the program is up and running, two hundred scholars will be enrolled each year, though the intake in the initial pilot phase will be limited to one hundred scholars. The program was not created to promote the teaching of the Chinese language per se, so if you are looking for something that would improve your Mandarin, the Confucius Institute scholarships are probably a better option.

All up, this is a pretty generous offer – which it really should be, given Stephen A. Schwarzman’s goal to emulate the success of the Rhodes scholarship and apply it to the 21st Century. Tuition, board, textbooks, health insurance and a personal stipend are standard in many programs, but Schwarzman Scholars goes above and beyond by including flights, arranging internships, taking students on a study tour, and providing mobiles and laptops.

Applications open in April 2015.

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Alek Hillas

Alek is an Honours student with an interest in disarmament, cross-cultural communication theory and the international political economy. He is the Chapter President of the Australia-China Youth Association (ACYA) at RMIT, and speaks German and Mandarin.

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