Yale in talks with Chinese donor for major gift

The University may soon receive a major donation for financial aid specifically for international Chinese undergraduates.

University Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill confirmed this week that her office has been in touch with Zhang Xin, a Chinese real estate billionaire, about a potential donation to Yale. If finalized, the donation would provide financial aid for students from China to come to Yale. Zhang’s talks with Yale follow a $15 million donation to Harvard this July, which was also earmarked for international financial aid.

“We have been talking with them about possible support for financial aid for Chinese undergraduates at Yale,” O’Neill said. Zhang could not be reached for comment, and Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi referred all questions about the funding for international financial aid to the Development Office.

According to O’Neill, Zhang and her husband Pan Shiyi visited Yale over the summer. The couple made their fortune by founding SOHO China, the country’s largest commercial real estate developer. Their combined net worth is valued at $3.6 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this summer, Zhang and Pan announced plans to donate $100 million to help Chinese undergraduates study at top universities in the United States and United Kingdom. The funds will be donated through the couple’s SOHO China Foundation. Zhang’s gift to Harvard this summer provides support for approximately 60 students from China to spend four years at Harvard.

Following the gift to Harvard, Zhang told Forbes Magazine that the “next target is Yale.”

However, the donation is yet to be finalized.

“We are very hopeful but of course that is their decision to make so I would not want to speculate,” O’Neill said.

Zhang said, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, that he hopes the gift will allow universities to recruit more students from mainland China, rather than admitting Chinese students sent to American high schools by wealthy families.

According to O’Neill, the University has seen growth in giving from international alumni, parents and other benefactors of the University. Increasingly, she added, those donors are looking to make Yale accessible to any student across the globe.

O’Neill also noted that Yale recently formed an alumni volunteer group called the Yale Asia Development Council, which brings alumni, parents and friends of the University together to strengthen Yale’s ties in Asia. Many members of the group, she said, have helped connect the University with potential donors.

But while Yale and other American institutions are enthusiastic about the prospect of receiving gifts from Zhang and Pan, many in China have sharply criticized the couple’s donations to non-Chinese universities.

“They despise their own country and people,” read one post in July on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media site that is popular in China.

“Taking Chinese people’s money and giving it to people who are able to study in America — what a great definition of ‘poverty’!” wrote another.

The donations are not the SOHO China Foundation’s first foray into education. The foundation previously funded a “Teach for China” program, which brought education programs to rural areas in China.

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