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There was a collective gulp earlier this week as £20m found its way from the pocket of retail wunderkind and Hong Kong businessman Dickson Poon into the coffers of King’s College London’s law faculty.
The biggest donation from an individual in KCL history and the largest to any single law faculty in Europe, KCL will use the money to extend its school of law to cover transnational law - thinking beyond particular national jurisdictions and global solutions to the world’s legal challenges.
In addition to renaming the law school the Dickson Poon School of Law, 15 of the 75 scholarships to be set up by the gift wil be reserved for students resident in Hong Kong.
Poon, the owner of Harvey Nichols, clearly knows the strength of branding. He made his name in Asia by being among the first to realise that the emerging Asian yuppie had a deep thirst for designer labels - perhaps designer-label law degrees will be on the horizon soon.
Whilst Poon’s donation has made a big splash, he isn’t the only Hong Kong philanthropist to see the UK university sector as a fitting home for largesse, Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, former chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, has donated large sums to Oxford as has Asia’s second richest man, Li Ka-Shing.
Outside the limelight of the big-name universities, smaller donations have been pouring into other UK universities from Hong Kong and Chinese alumni.
Kennedy Wong, a Hong Kong-based alumnus of Kent Law School, is making a £500,000 donation over the next five years as part of a major fundraising initiative by the university to develop its legal studies facilities. The donation is the single largest philanthropic alumni gift ever received by the university.
But KCL may need to call upon Poon’s business skills in dispelling the mutterings that emerged just one day after the donation announcement when a number of former and current students launched a petition against the removal of key modules from the LLM programme.