Plans to rename a University of Oxford college are “in doubt” after Vietnamese billionaire Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao failed to deliver the first donation payment.
Last year, Linacre College signed a memorandum of understanding on Oct. 31 and announced that it would change its name to Thao College after Vietnam’s first and only woman billionaire, widely known as Madame Thao, pledged 155 million British pounds (approximately $171.4 million) from her Vietnamese investment group Sovico Group. “I believe that Oxford is the right place to make my long-time desire to contribute to humanity through education, training and research come true,” Nguyen previously stated.
Linacre College, which is one of 36 constituent colleges at the University of Oxford, was founded in 1962 and named after 16th-century scholar Thomas Linacre. The college previously stated that the grant would go towards building a new training center and funding postgraduate scholarships.
However, the first payment of 50 million British pounds (approximately $55.3 million), which was set to have been paid by June 30, has not arrived. There are speculations Nguyen may be getting cold feet due to negative publicity and doubts over whether the name change will go through.
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“If she doesn’t get the name change she could pull out,” a source told The Telegraph, noting that the “doubt over the name change and the adverse publicity” is the most likely reason for her delay. The government previously launched an investigation into Nguyen’s donation after Conservative MP Julian Lewis said that she is “extremely close to the Vietnamese communist government.” However, the investigation was closed, with the Department for Education (DfE) praising the college’s level of diligence. Linacre College also defended the donation, stating that it complies with “government guidance and laws.”
Linacre College alumni have reportedly launched a campaign to prevent the name change. They argued that the act sends a message that British universities are “essentially for sale to the highest bidder.”
To rename the college, the proposal must be approved by the Privy Council. Lewis, who is a member of said council, said, “If we want to clean up the dirty money and dodgy donations in this country, that would be a good place to start.”
“Whereas the college can accept the money whether the government likes it or not, the college cannot change its name without Privy Council permission,” Lewis said. “Therefore, only the Privy Council has the power to intervene effectively.”
Nguyen, who was born in 1970, became a billionaire at the age of 21 while at university in Moscow, where she began importing goods into the then-Soviet Union. She is also the founder of Vietjet Air, which became known as the “bikini airline” for its advertising campaign that featured bikini-clad flight attendants.
“We are working with Sovico and their financial advisers to develop processes for the transfer of funds that are transparent, auditable and meet with all the legal requirements of both UK and Vietnamese governments,” a spokesperson for Linacre College told Telegraph.
“Finding a fiscal solution that works has caused some delay,” the spokesperson added. “Following productive face-to-face meetings in Vietnam, we are now putting all the relevant processes and paperwork in place to transfer the funds.”