Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing has told close associates he is disheartened that his family has been sidelined by the university he co-founded 38 years ago, as he also expressed worries over the future of a strategic partnership between the institution and a leading technical university in Israel, the Post has learned. According to a source familiar with the situation, Li decided about two weeks ago not to attend Shantou University’s graduation ceremony on Friday, the first time he had been missed it in 18 years. “He feels disheartened as he has no actual say at the university,” the source said. “He took pride in the Israeli project and he is worried about how the university will take it forward.” The source confirmed the Post ’s earlier report that the influence of Li’s family might be on the wane , after his younger son Richard Li Tzar-kai was asked to leave the school’s governing body when Li retired from his role as honorary chairman last year. Back in 2013, Li donated US$130 million to Technion Israel Institute of Technology, a top science institution based in Haifa, to help build a campus at the university in a joint project with Shantou University. The new school, named Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology (TGIT), was said to be an “unprecedented cooperation” between the two universities, Guangdong’s provincial government and the Shantou municipal government. TGIT was set up with a vision to become a world-class international institute to conduct cutting-edge research in the fields of science and technology. The research was expected to boost entrepreneurship and foster a hi-tech industrial ecosystem in Guangdong province. Although both Li and his son stayed away from Friday’s graduation ceremony, the school’s president Jiang Hong, also its Communist Party secretary, paid tribute to the tycoon while emphasising the need for students to be patriotic. After the Chinese national anthem was sung, university president Jiang Hong, also its Communist Party secretary, emphasised the pertinence of some of the lyrics – “the Chinese nation faces its greatest peril” – to the young students amid the US-China trade war. “The outbreak and continuing evolution of the trade war has made us feel deeply that the enemy’s gun is firing. They have tried to disrupt our country’s stable economic and social developments. They have even tried to shake off our mentality and cause division among Chinese,” she said. “I’m glad this generation of young people, who grew up with Coca-Cola and US dramas, can still show anger towards the [US’s] hegemony, protect the nation’s interests, defend the national stance and be vigilant to their responsibility. “It would have been difficult for Shantou University to achieve what it has today without people like Li Ka-shing, who does his best to love his country, hometown and care about the world.” It had been an annual ritual for Li to show up at the ceremony over the past 17 years, while his younger son Richard Li Tzar-kai had also attended twice. “The atmosphere was not as lively as last year,” one graduate of the university’s Institution of Technology Karol Mei said. “My parents were a bit disappointed when they learned Li was not coming.” Mei, who volunteered at last year’s ceremony, said she was not surprised Li did not show up at the ceremony as he had announced he would quit as honorary chairman last year. She also noted the school was changing in recent years with fewer overseas opportunities than when she first joined. “The international resources were the reason I chose Shantou University,” she said. The Communist Party has tightened its ideological grip on university campuses in recent years and Li, who moved from Shantou to Hong Kong at the age of 12, has faced accusations he was pulling his investments from mainland China. Iris Wang, a graduate majoring in English, said she had benefited from resources provided by the Li Ka Shing Foundation especially in the first two years. “There were a lot of cultural exchanges and lectures,” she said. “I think the university is now shifting resources to academic development.” A Li Ka Shing Foundation spokesman said it was “not aware of the move” while the university had yet to respond to a request for comment. Founded as a public university in 1981, Shantou University is jointly established by the Ministry of Education, the Guangdong provincial government and the foundation. According to the list published by the university last year, there were 23 council members with Li Ka-shing as the honorary chairman. Eight members, including the chairman, are government or party officials. Four members, including Richard Li, are from the Li Ka Shing Foundation and Li Ka Shing Shantou University Foundation. Seven are university professors or school deans, including some from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, in areas such as medical science and technology. Emeritus Professor Cheng Kai-ming, of the faculty of education at HKU, said the mainland had public, private and joint venture universities. For the latter type, foreign institutions formed partnerships with local ones. “However, Shantou University is unique, different from all the types. It is a public university where a private donation had a substantial influence,” he said. “It’s a special case which appeared at a particular historical junction. The relationship between overseas universities and their donors doesn’t apply to Shantou University because of its uniqueness. “The election and composition of council members varies from university to university, and from country to country. There is no general rule.” Cheng added: “The chairman usually has more weight on decision-making at the council. The change of council members normally should not affect the university’s daily operations, but will change the direction and future development of the university.” More than 20 guests were invited onto the stage at the graduation ceremony, including deputy provincial head of Guangdong Qin Weizhong and Zhong Shizhen, a renowned Chinese anatomist.