Suntech Power Holdings' chief executive Dr Zhengrong Shi and the University of New South Wales have signed a three-year agreement in which Suntech will sponsor up to 30 Chinese students and Suntech employees to study a Masters program in photovoltaics at UNSW.

Commencing in 2008, UNSW's School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering will begin training the first intake of students from Jiangnan University in Wuxi, China, whose tuition, health cover and English language skills will be paid for by Suntech.

The agreement was signed last week at UNSW during a ceremony attended by NSW Premier Morris Iemma, Dr Shi, UNSW Chancellor David Gonski, UNSW Vice Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer and Mr Sheng Keqing from Wuxi City Municipal Government.

Welcoming back a "distinguished alumnus to "one of the finest institutions for research and learning in the nation," Mr Iemma spoke of the importance of the bilateral relationship with China - one that will encourage the exchange of students, research and critical investment in renewable energy.

Mr Sheng acknowledged UNSW's role in shaping the success of Dr Shi, a man known to most Chinese people.

"UNSW is one of Australia's most famous and prestigious universities and the place most Chinese students long for," he said.

"UNSW has a very strong photovoltaic centre. It is a very good example of the technology, talent and IP that Wuxi will be concentrating in its further development."

Dr Shi is the inventor for 11 patents in photovoltaic technologies and completed a PhD degree in electrical engineering at UNSW in 1992.

Commenting on the agreement, UNSW Vice-Chancellor, Professor Hilmer said: "Dr Shi's company generously donated $1.5m to UNSW in 2006 to support the University's photovoltaic research effort. In April the company signed a research agreement with UNSW to develop an innovative way of forming metal contacts to improve solar cell efficiency.

"This new agreement to sponsor Chinese students and Suntech employees to study at masters level is an endorsement of UNSW's world-leading photovoltaic research and training facilities, and a clear sign of Dr Shi's continuing commitment to UNSW."

The new deal follows the successful development of Semiconductor Finger Solar Cell technology that came out of previous joint research between UNSW and Suntech.