WELL OVER A MONTH after it was first announced, tycoon Li Ka-shing's surprise $1 billion donation to the University of Hong Kong remains a hot topic. Even for one of Hong Kong's most prominent philanthropists the size of the donation is unprecedented - believed to be the largest given to an Asian university. But the controversy over the equally unprecedented way the university has chosen to recognise the gift - by renaming its medical faculty after the benefactor - refuses to die down. It is the first time a local university has proposed attaching a donor's name to an existing faculty, and the move sparked an angry reaction from a group of alumni doctors lead by legislator for the medical profession's functional constituency, Kwok Ka-ki. The faculty belonged to the people of Hong Kong, they said, and the university had effectively put a price tag on it. In response, the university cited examples of the practice at universities overseas, including Northwestern University and Cornell University in the US, and the National University of Singapore. 'For the universities overseas, the average donation is about US$100 million for renaming a university building or a faculty,' said Raymond Liang Hin-suen, the faculty's associate dean. Some contributors to the letters pages of this newspaper have accused the protesters of ingratitude, saying the renaming was justified by the size of the donation, which might persuade other tycoons to follow Mr Li's lead. Formally accepting the university's invitation at a press conference following Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa's joint annual general meeting last month, Mr Li said he felt 'honoured and moved'. 'I have spent more than 30 years working for community benefit,' he said. 'This is undoubtedly a big encouragement.' Mr Li spoke of engendering a 'culture of giving' among Hong Kong's wealthy. 'Sometimes I feel very uncomfortable, that rich people in Hong Kong should make more of an effort. I hope this donation to Hong Kong University can attract more people to pay attention to the culture of giving,' he said. Some observers have suggested the donation could begin an avalanche of major donations across the region. 'This $1 billion has really raised the stakes, and that is a wonderful thing for Asia,' said Ben Morton Wright, chief executive officer of Global Philanthropic. 'When the history of philanthropy is written in terms of this region, it will be seen as one of the most important gifts.' Global Philanthropic is a consultancy firm that helps universities, charities and arts groups to maximise their fundraising. Mr Wright said the donation represented a 'seismic shift' in the way charitable gifts and philanthropy were measured in Asia. He said there were a number of individuals in Asia who might follow Mr Li's example, though he would not comment on whether the following row would put them off. In the context of Mr Li's previous large gifts, HKU's $1 billion windfall represents 13 per cent of donations the Li Ka Shing Foundation has made over the last quarter of a century. Since the tycoon established the foundation in 1980, he has given away $7.6 billion. According to statistics on the foundation's website, 90 per cent of that has been split equally between education and medicine. But this may be just the first in a series of major gifts. In a rare interview with Yazhou Zhoukan earlier this year, Mr Li referred to his charity foundation as his 'third son', and suggested it, rather than his two actual ones, would inherit most of his fortune. According to Forbes, Mr Li ranks 22nd in the league of the world's richest billionaires, with a net worth of US$13 billion. While the mainland and Hong Kong have received the lion's share of donations, both the foundation and Mr Li's companies Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Group have been major benefactors overseas. Mr Li is courted by presidents and vice-chancellors from the world's leading universities. Cambridge's vice-chancellor Alison Richard was among those to have recently paid him a visit. Her university has received #16.5 million ($234 million) from Hutchsion for its new cancer research centre - a collaboration between the university, the UK's Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK. The companies also fund scholarships for study in the UK and exchanges between Australian and Asian students. Less than a month before the HKU donation, the foundation donated $60 million to the Chinese University of Hong Kong to establish a centre of health sciences. In January, Mr Li sold a C$1.2 billion ($7.41 billion) share in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), pledging to give the proceeds to charitable foundations - principally the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the newly established Li Ka Shing Foundation (Canada). A spokesperson for the Li Ka Shing Foundation in Hong Kong said the money for the HKU donation was independent of the CIBC sale, suggesting further donations could be expected. He said the argument over the renaming of the medical faculty would not deter the foundation from making further gifts to HKU or other institutions in Hong Kong. The foundation is remaining tight lipped about exactly how it plans to allocate its resources in the future, and over what time scale it intends to spend the CIBC billions. All the foundation's spokesman would say was that it would continue to focus its efforts on education and medicine. But at the Hutchison press conference Mr Li talked at length about the gift and his philosophy towards donations. 'I have been constantly donating funds to academic and medical causes, as I feel education and medicine are important pillars of society, as important as the skeleton that supports the human body,' he said. The decision to give the money to HKU - Mr Li's late wife's alma mater - was in recognition of its high academic standards and the good work the university had done in the past. He added that he had confidence HKU would put the money to good use. But he stressed it would not be the only beneficiary of his generosity. 'Apart from HKU, I have also given to other universities, and I will continue to give to other universities,' he said. It was, however, impossible to give to every good cause, Mr Li said, so he needed to consider the 'returns for education, medicine and Hong Kong, and whether it will raise Hong Kong's academic and research status'. Mr Li recently stated that Hong Kong and the mainland remained his 'first choice' for donations. 'I chose to donate to the University of Hong Kong because Hong Kong is my home, [so] Hong Kong and mainland China are definitely my first choice for donations,' he said. 'I do give money overseas, but comparatively Hong Kong and the mainland definitely get the most.' In the past, according to the foundation's website, Hong Kong had received 29 per cent of the foundation's donations, while the mainland received 64 per cent. That was before the HKU donation.