The richest man in Asia is giving $130 million to the Technion to build a research center in China. Li Ka Shing, estimated to be worth some $31 billion – and, according to Forbes, the world’s eighth-richest man – is funding the joint project between the Technion and Shantou University, located in Guangdong Province.

The new center, to be called the Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology (TGIT), will be located on its own 330,000 square meter campus to be built by the local government, while the Li Ka Shing Foundation (LKSF) will fund projects and programs at the new center. LKSF is the main funding arm for Shantou, providing nearly all of the school’s HK$6 billion endowment. The $130 million gift for the joint Technion-Shantou project, meanwhile, constitutes the largest gift ever to the Technion, and one of the largest to any Israeli school.

TGIT will begin offering undergraduate programs in civil and environmental engineering and computer sciences in the academic year beginning in November. Next year, the new joint project will conduct life sciences research using “Big Data” analysis to tackle medical and social issues, including improvements in clinical diagnosis procedures. By 2020, the institute will offer courses in other engineering-related fields, from mechanical to aerospace engineering.

The roots of the partnership go back to 2011, when LKSF officials visited the Technion, followed by a reciprocal visit to China by Technion President Dr. Peretz Lavie. Speaking Sunday at a ceremony in Tel Aviv in which a memorandum of understanding for the joint project was signed, Lavie described the partnership as “a major breakthrough and an opportunity to strengthen ties between Israel and China.

“When you combine the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of Israel with the unbelievable scale of China, you have a great partnership,” he said.  “We hope that by combining our research methodologies with the scale and resources of China, we will create a major research institute that will help not only China and Israel, but also mankind in general.”

Li Ka Shing (Photo credit: Courtesy LKSF)

Li Ka Shing (Photo credit: Courtesy LKSF)

As a result of that 2011 trip, Li Ka Shing became interested in Israeli hi-tech and decided to invest in several Israeli start-ups, including Waze. Part of the money being used to fund the new project is coming out of the profit that Li earned when Google bought Waze earlier this year for some $900 million, LKSF said.

Speaking at Sunday’s event, Li said that “in a world of fluid boundaries, the transformative power of technology waves like a magic wand, bringing new models and opportunities to many frontiers and generating new solutions to entrenched problems. But we all know the wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them, and the magic comes from the genius within.

“Our responsibility is to invest in education to unlock that genius and enable the continuing realization of human potential, building a society rich in knowledge and securing a sustainable quality of life for all,” Li said.

For China, said Professor Gu Peihua, provost of Shantou, the Technion is a role model for China to follow. What the Technion has done to advance the Israeli economy through student and staff research and innovation is an example for Chinese universities to follow. If many universities in Guangdong and China do the same as Technion has been doing in Israel, an innovation-based economy will emerge.”

Within a few decades, Gu said, he expected TGIT to become one of the best technological schools in Asia, if not the world.