As David Cameron, UK prime minister, gets ready to head off to Beijing with a trade delegation, another UK citizen is helping to promote commercial ties between the two countries in a rather less visible way.

Sir Tom Hunter, known for being Scotland’s first billionaire, is funding two students from the UK on a full-time MBA programme at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. Rory Bate-Williams and Jeremy Solomons started at the school in Beijing four months ago funded with annual bursaries worth £50,000 each, to cover the cost of doing the MBAs.

“It’s been an absolutely extraordinary experience,” says Mr Bate-Williams who says he has been enjoying the school’s emphasis on networking. He says CKGSB alumni visit the school twice a week and there are many opportunities for meeting people outside scheduled hours.

“We find ourselves sitting on the same table as Chinese politicians and CEOs,” says Mr Bate-Williams, adding: “The access we’ve been given here is amazing.”

Now the school has launched its quest for the next two Hunter scholars, who will join CKGSB’s 2014 intake on its full time MBA. Although both this year’s Hunter scholars are from UK, this year the school is keen to hear from applicants from anywhere in Europe.

The opportunities being enjoyed by Mr Bate-Williams are exactly what Sir Tom intended. “It used to be go west young man, now it should be go east,” he says.

Sir Tom says he was “just blown away” when he made his first visit to China last year. “I thought, my goodness, there’s not a lot of knowledge in the UK about China.” His decision to fund the scholarship programme comes from his conviction that there should be more people in the west who do understand how things work in China.

Oliver Shiell, chief representative for Europe at CKGSB echoes his views.

“There’s a massive knowledge deficit in the west on China. But if you’re going to be a future CEO you’re going to have to have a core competence on China and east Asia or you’re not going to make the cut.”

This year’s scholars form part of a cohort of 40 students on the 14-month, full time programme. Only four are westerners, there are also two Koreans and three Hong Kong Chinese. The school is aiming to recruit more international students, but Mr Bate-Williams feels he has benefited enormously from the networking opportunities offered by having so many Chinese people on the course.

He says he dreams of setting up a company in China and hopes to identify a potential Chinese partner by the end of his time in Beijing.

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