After PS155m donation, Oxford college will change its name

Show caption Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao for 2015. According to reports, she earned a lot of her wealth from VietJet Air, a budget airline. Photograph: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images
University of Oxford

After receiving funding from Vietnam's richest woman, Linacre College will rename itself Thao College

After receiving a PS155m gift, the University of Oxford has decided to change the name of its college to honor Vietnam's wealthiest woman.

Linacre College stated it will request permission from the privy Council to change its name as Thao College following the signing of a memorandum regarding the money with Sovico Group, represented in its chair Nguyenthi Phuong Thao.

The 1962 founding of the graduate college was named after Thomas Linacre, a Renaissance medical scientist, humanist and classicist. The donation will help to pay for a new graduate centre and graduate access scholarships, the college has said.

It stated, "We have always been one of university's least-endowed colleges. We are pleased that a significant portion of this donation will be for our general fund to help support college's daily running."

Linacre College. The donation will help to pay for a new graduate centre and graduate access scholarships, the college has said. Graham Turner/The Guardian

"Sovico Group also committed to net zero carbon for all its subsidiaries by the end 2050 through the assistance of Oxford academics.

"After receiving the PS50m first donation, we will approach our privy council to request permission for Thao College to change the name of Linacre College to Thao College in honor of this historic gift."

Thao's donation was met with dismay by Oxfordians. Thao is a trustee of Oxford University, which claims to be "one among the greenest colleges in Oxford". Sovico has interests in off-shore oil and gas exploration and fossil fuel financing. He also owns Vietnam's first private airline.

According to the Tab Thao made most of her fortune via VietJet Air which is operated by Sovico. She serves as vice chair of HDBank's board and is the largest shareholder of the conglomerate. HDBank is main financier to the state-owned Vietnam National Petroleum Group.

The Oxford University Climate Justice Campaign, which has previously called for the names of fossil fuel companies to be taken off university buildings and institutes, said the donation risked undermining net zero standards.

"We are disappointed to hear that Linacre College has accepted donations from Sovico group, a company whose fossil fuel extraction threatens our planet's survival," the spokesperson said. "Linacre's inability to become carbon-neutral demonstrates that actions speak louder then words," the spokesperson said. We are sorry to hear that Linacre values money over people and the environment.

Dr Maria Kawthar Daouda is an Oxford lecturer in French literature. Daouda suggested that Madam Thao can express gratitude but not forget the importance of the donation.

Another don, who was not identified, was more relaxed about the change. He said, "If this were one the great historic colleges, one would have deep reservations." "But as it's a modern college and has not got a big endowment, one can understand the decision. It's normal for someone to spend a lot of money and have something to show it.

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