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Chinese billionaire Charles Chen Yidan launches biggest education prize

A Chinese technology billionaire has created the world’s most valuable education prize. The Yidan Prize will award nearly $8m (£6.64m) every year to two research projects that have the potential to “transform” global education. Charles Chen Yidan, who co-founded China’s internet company, Tencent, wants to use the prize to scale up innovative education research projects and replicate them across the world.

Universities, governments and think tanks have reacted enthusiastically to the prize, and leading US institutions like Harvard and MIT have already submitted several nominations. But the winner might not necessarily be a household name in education. Even a local project could win the prize, if it can prove it has been effective. “As long as an idea is replicable in other regions, we can give them an award,” says Mr Yidan.


Mr Yidan, now aged 45, became one of China’s richest men after co-founding Tencent in 1998. In 2013, he stepped down to focus on educational philanthropy. His interest in education came from his family. His grandmother was illiterate but insisted that Mr Yidan’s father got a good education. The internet billionaire founded Wuhan College, with an emphasis on more than exam grades

Mr Yidan himself studied applied chemistry as an undergraduate at Shenzhen University and took a master’s degree in economic law at Nanjing University.His educational philosophy has also been shaped by the “tremendous pressure” he felt while studying for China’s “gaokao” higher education entrance examinations.


So he set up Wuhan College, a private university in China, which focuses on “whole-person development” rather than rote-learning and examinations. The college aims to train talented students to join China’s technology industry. Executives from Tencent helped to design the college’s curriculum, recruit students and teach classes, so that its graduates are trained in the skills required by employers.

But Mr Yidan was frustrated that this college only reached a limited number of students. So he decided a global education prize would be the best way to improve education for millions of young people. Mr Yidan, speaking on a tour of Europe to promote the prize to universities, governments, NGOs and think tanks, says he has already been inundated with nominations. He wants the prize to focus the attention of universities and governments on future trends in education. (

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