Canberra-born global commodities trader and billionaire Graham Tuckwell and his wife Louise have donated $50 million to the Australian National University to set up Australia’s version of the Rhodes Scholarship.
Twenty-five Tuckwell Scholars will be chosen from across the country to study at the ANU each year in a program which will encourage good citizenship as well as academic excellence.
Mr Tuckwell met Prime Minister Julia Gillard before the announcement and he said she told him she saw delighted with his donation and wanted to encourage other wealthy Australian business people to consider philanthropy of the same nature.
The scholarships hold a value of $100,000 per student over five years for a program of undergraduate study.
Students must have an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank of 95 or above and display a "well-rounded set of personal attributes" with Mr Tuckwell committing to travel to Canberra each year to sit on the selection committee and mentor the scholars.
He said he did not want "hot-housed kids" to get places – reserving his financial support for those who were bright, engaged and "ready to work hard", and who may not have had advantaged upbringings.
Mr Tuckwell graduated from the ANU in 1978 with a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Laws in 1981 and credits his "world-class" education with allowing him to move from Canberra and succeed in global finance.
The $50 million endowment dwarfs other acts of generosity from Australian donors, most recently the $20 million donated last year to the University of Sydney by engineering tycoon John Grill.
But Irish American Chuck Feeney – who founded The Atlantic Philanthropies after making his fortune through the Duty Free Shoppers Group has donated about $500 million to a range of Australian universities, mostly for medical research, and contingent on matching government funds.
Vice Chancellor Ian Young said that when he included a strong focus on encouraging philanthropy in his 2011 strategic plan, he never expected such largesse.
"You live in hope, but you can never bet on it."
Mr Tuckwell, who rocketed into last year’s Business Review Weekly’s Rich List with a personal wealth reportedly at $775 million, said he never discussed his fortune.
He made his money founding an exchange-traded fund empire (ETF Securities) which allows gold and other commodities to be traded as a security on the stock exchange.
With approximately $30 billion in assets, his company is the seventh largest ETF firm in the world.
Mr Tuckwell and his wife Louise – a University of Queensland alumna – have four children and live in Jersey, the British crown dependency off the coast of Normandy which charges citizens a flat personal income tax rate of 20 per cent.
Last year Mr Tuckwell set up a private ancillary fund - under new Australian rules with allow donations to be distributed tax-free to charities and causes - as a channel for $80 million in philanthropic funds.
He approached the ANU with the idea to set up the Tuckwell Fellowship as a way to give back to Australia.
Part of the $50 million has already been deposited to the ANU over an agreed 20-year period with Mr Tuckwell committing to the program in perpetuity.
Depending on how business went – and Mr Tuckwell has plans to sell the company eventually – he said he may donate more to the ANU.
He planned to be a hands-on philanthropist rather than leaving vast sums of money to charity when he died.
"I am young enough (56) to help shape the program, so its not just some group of trustees. It can be dynamic," he said.
Students will receive $20,000 each year for personal and living expenses and will live on the ANU residential campus – becoming members of Scholars House, a pastoral and social heart of the program and led by Tuckwell Fellows who are academic staff appointed to supporting students.