The proposed name change of Linacre College to ‘Thao College’ has been dropped after the “transformative donation” to the College failed to materialise due to restrictions in Vietnam.
Two years ago the college announced that it would be receiving a £155 million donation from SOVICO Group, and that it was planning to change its name to ‘Thao college’ after the conglomerate’s chairwoman and Vietnamese billionaire, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao. However, according to The Telegraph, alumni were told that the college no longer expects to receive the funds due to restrictions on outward donations imposed by the Vietnamese government.
The donation had previously been criticised for transfering money out of Vietnam, which is poorer than the UK, as well as being under investigation by the UK government for Ms. Thao’s alleged links to the Communist government of Vietnam. In 2022, Ms. Thao was also caught up in a High Court legal claim involving a similar sum of money as the “landmark gift”.
Other concerns raised by alumni to Cherwell included discomfort over what some saw as an attempt by a foreign billionaire to associate their name with the prestige of an Oxford college while its current name derives from Thomas Linacre, an English physician and humanist scholar.
At the time, Maria Kawthar Daouda, a lecturer at Oriel College, wrote in a letter to the Daily Mail: “There is a lot in its name none the less. It bears a deep history and should not be altered just because a major gift has been made. Gratitude for Mrs Thao’s money could be expressed in ways that do not erase what the donation is meant to protect.”
While it is not unusual for Oxford Colleges to be named after benefactors, as has been the case with Lincoln, Wadham, and Balliol Colleges, concerns were raised about what message this sends to potential or future donors.
Similarly, after it was first announced, climate group Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OUJC) criticised the College’s decision to accept the donation claiming that SOVICO has worked alongside fossil fuel companies, including the Russian oil company Zarbezneft.
Noting that their concern that it may contradict other Oxford policies on net-zero,
OUJC told Cherwell: “Given that no company involved in fossil fuel extraction or aviation has been able to meet these standards we seriously doubt whether SOVICO group’s own promise to become net-zero represents anything other than greenwashing.”
Linacre is one of Oxford’s youngest colleges, founded in 1962 as a graduate society for men and women. It became an independent college of the University in 1986 via Royal Charter. The donation was to be used to fund scholarships and the construction of a new graduate centre. A significant part of the donation was intended to go towards the College’s general endowment fund, which totalled £17.7 million in 2018, to support the daily running of the College.
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion, which has dropped from about $3.1 billion in 2022. Alongside her position as President of SOVICO Group, she has investments in HD Bank and real estate, including three beach resorts. She is currently ranked in 1368th place on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest billionaires.
Linacre College, the University of Oxford, and SOVICO Group have all been approached for comment.