A University of Oxford college is to change its name to honour Vietnam’s richest woman after she offered it a £155m donation.
Linacre College says it will ask the privy council for permission to change its name to Thao College after signing a memorandum of understanding over the money with Sovico Group – represented by its chair, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao.
The graduate college, founded in 1962, is named after the Renaissance humanist, medical scientist and classicist Thomas Linacre. The donation will help to pay for a new graduate centre and graduate access scholarships, the college has said.
“We have long been one of the least well-endowed colleges at the university, so we are delighted that a significant part of the donation will be for our general endowment fund, to help support the daily running of college,” it said.
“Sovico Group has also committed to all their subsidiaries reaching net zero carbon by the end of 2050 with the input from leading Oxford academics.
“After receiving the first donation of £50m, we will approach the privy council to ask for permission to change our name from Linacre College to Thao College in recognition of this landmark gift.”
At Oxford there has been disquiet over Thao’s donation to the institution, which has styled itself as “one of the greenest colleges in Oxford”. Sovico’s business interests include offshore oil and gas exploration, fossil fuel financing, and Vietnam’s first private airline.
According to the Tab, Thao made much of her fortune from the budget airline VietJet Air, which is controlled by Sovico. The conglomerate is also the largest shareholder in HDBank, on the board of which she also serves as vice-chair. HDBank is the main financer of the state-owned Vietnam National Petroleum Group.
Dr Maria Kawthar Daouda, a lecturer in French literature at Oxford, told the Telegraph college names should not be altered simply because “a major gift has been made”.
“Thankfulness for Madam Thao’s money could be expressed in ways that do not erase what the donation is meant to protect,” Daouda said.
Another don, who was not identified, was more relaxed about the change. “If this were one of the great historic colleges one would have deep reservations,” he said. “But as it’s a modern college and has not got a big endowment, one can understand the decision. If someone is going to put in a colossal amount of money, it’s not unreasonable to have something to show for it.”