Why the surprise when a wealthy capitalist makes a large donation to an Oxford college? | Letters (2022)

Why is Catherine Bennett so outraged by Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao’s donation to Oxford (“An Oxford college is about to link itself to a bikini airline. Now that’s what I call classy”, Comment)? It is hardly front-page news when wealthy capitalists make large gifts to elite universities. Nor are these institutions usually much troubled by the source of their benefactors’ wealth, whether oil, coal, diamonds or expropriation of personal data from internet users. Elite universities are locked in a competition that compels them to seek vast amounts of money to keep them at the top of the pile. University presidents are paid high salaries to raise these sums. That is their job.

So Vietjet used a tasteless marketing gimmick for a while. Shame on them, but they are hardly the worst of the Oxbridge or Harvard, Yale or Stanford donors.

A coherent position would be that higher education should not have to rely on contributions from wealthy donors. That every student should have an opportunity to study at a first-rate university, no matter where they live or how much money they have. We are a long way from that, but to single out Madame Thao is unfair.
Jonathan Pincus
Hanoi, Vietnam

I am a junior dean at Linacre College and before the proposed name change to Thao College, there were fierce internal debates.

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It was sad to learn about the event where bikini-clad women served as stewardesses on a Vietjet flight. The thought that our college was receiving money that could have been made through the commodification of women’s bodies was troubling. Not to mention that some of it might have been made by harming the environment through carbon emissions.

Thao’s subsidiary companies are under a contractual agreement with Linacre to achieve net carbon zero by 2050. If they do not meet that, the college can remove her name. In effect, Linacre has real leverage in curbing the carbon emissions of a large corporation. Also, Thao will be the first minority woman to have her name on an Oxford college. This could help break the stereotype of Oxford being only for privileged white men. I hope many more women and those of a different cultural heritage are inspired to apply to Oxford because they see it as a place for all kinds of people to succeed.
Peter Young
Linacre College, Oxford

Blame austerity, not councils

Lady Leshurr is wrong to say “councils have failed us when it comes to youth clubs” (“This much I know”, Magazine). Rather, 10 years of unremitting national austerity has eviscerated the youth service, alongside many other non-statutory services. When I left Dudley council in 2009, councillors of all parties were proud of what we had achieved; now, youth club buildings stand derelict. But Lady Leshurr is right: it is a tragedy this has happened without an outcry.
John Freeman
Dudley, West Midlands

Of moors and monoculture

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Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association is upset that I described heather moorland as a monoculture (Letters, 31 July). Her statistics about biodiversity of UK heathland and moorland are doubtless correct, but do not derive from the moorland type that I was referring to, which is where heather has been burned to sustain it at the point in its growth cycle that maximises red grouse numbers for shooting and minimises other species. Such monoculture may look briefly spectacular in August, but it is not a habitat rich in biodiversity.
Alastair Fitter, emeritus professor of ecology,
University of York

Taiwan’s wake-up call

Nancy Pelosi visit or not, China is planning to invade Taiwan as soon as it is confident in its military’s ability to take the island (“Nancy Pelosi’s reckless visit succeeded only in arousing an unstable China”, Editorial). Fooling ourselves that the Chinese will play nicely if we don’t ruffle their feathers is shortsighted and dangerous.

Pelosi’s visit is a wake-up call to the Taiwanese and surrounding countries that they need to make economic and military decisions to prevent China from gobbling up more territory and owning the South China Sea.
Dominick Giordano
New York

Trans concerns

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Sonia Sodha writes that “the information commissioner has found that Stonewall operates a ‘significant degree of influence’ over members of its workplace index, in which organisations compete to show how aligned they are with its worldview” (“Don’t buy the Stonewall line on gender identity? Fine, you can’t be sacked for that now”, Comment, 31 July).

This certainly holds true in our medical royal colleges, regulatory bodies and NHS trusts, where a climate of fear prevents doctors voicing serious concerns about the care of trans-identified patients. The cancellation of a trainee conference titled How Can Child Psychiatrists Help Gender-Questioning Young People by Health Education England further demonstrates the shutting down of debate.

A group of us met the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists two years ago and evidenced specific clinical and safeguarding concerns from a sample of psychiatric trainees related to the care of these patients. We questioned if the college’s position statement reflected the views of its members. Our request for a survey to ascertain psychiatrists’ concerns and experience in this area was dismissed and the RCP’s response clearly followed the Stonewall line.

The college’s statement on the closure of the Tavistock gender identity clinic fails to recognise the substance of the Cass interim review and disavows its responsibilities to patients and members who have doubts that the affirmation-approach (an experimental therapeutic stance imported from the US) and WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) guidelines are fit for purpose.

We urge the college to reconsider its membership of Stonewall’s contentious workplace index and think of its obligation to promote holistic and compassionate care that takes full account of the complexity of patients’ lived experiences.
Dr Juliet Singer, Dr David Bell, Dr Seth Bhunoo, Dr Aileen O’ Brien, Dr Kate Clyde, Dr Lenny Cornwall, Dr Lucy Griffin, Dr Az Hakeem, Dr Stella Kingett, Dr Jane Martin, Dr Adrian Vann, Professor David Skuse, Professor David Veale, Dr Brigit Westphal, Dr Sophia Williams, Dr Anne Zachary, Dr Mona Ahmed, Dr Saam Idelji-Tehrani, Dr Damien Gamble, Dr Nicky Cowan, Dr Giovanni Polizzi, Dr Carine Minne, Professor Marc Serfaty, Dr Phil Hopley, Dr Charlotte James, Dr Wayne Kampers, Dr Lubna Karim

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Dig deep for energy solutions

Phillip Inman (“Four solutions as soaring energy prices hit home for millions”, News) offers some good ideas, but if the source of the inflation is the rising cost of energy, why not propose an emergency programme of installing alternatives to oil and gas throughou the country? Here in Cambridgeshire, a village is installing ground source heat pumps under a field. Why could this not be done under green spaces everywhere? This could be paid for by taxing the sources he lists, though for moral, political and economic reasons at a far higher rate than he envisages. Cheaper electricity would draw people away from gas and lower our dependence it.
Michael Briant
Cambridge

Let it all hang out

Whenever I see an article on naturism, my heart sinks. More childish innuendo, bad puns and misconceptions. So it made a pleasant change to read Sally Howard’s article (“Naked Ambition”, Magazine). It was, however, let down by the accompanying photographs, which were simultaneously coy and suggestive. Artfully posed, they contrived to obscure the very thing the article was supposedly celebrating. Namely, total nudity.

The Observer, as a grown-up journal, is quite happy to print even the most robust English without asterisks. Why now this uncharacteristic Hyacinth Bucket faux gentility? My two-year-old grandson said to me the other day: “Grandad, I’ve got a willy in my pants” and pulled them down to show me. I suggest he has a more mature attitude to the human body than some at your newspaper.
Anthony Vear
Harrow, Middlesex

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FAQs

Why an Oxford College is renaming itself for Vietnam's richest woman? ›

An Oxford college can go ahead with changing its name to that of a leading donor after the government ended an investigation. Linacre College, which was founded in 1962 and has about 550 postgraduate students, intends to rename itself Thao College after accepting a £155 million gift from Vietnam's richest woman.

Who funds the university of Oxford? ›

The three main sources of income are teaching, research and residential (38% of the aggregate income), legacies and donations (22%), and investment income (31%). Other income derives mostly from trading activity such as vacation conferences.

Which Oxford College is changing its name? ›

Linacre College was founded in 1962 and is named after the distinguished humanist and physician Thomas Linacre, who was born in Canterbury in the mid-fifteenth century. But the college announced in November that it would change its name in exchange for a £155 million donation from Ms Thao's company, Sovico Group.

How much did said donate to Oxford? ›

Saïd donated £70 million to Oxford University in 1996, in order to set up the Saïd Business School of which he has continued to donate to. Most recently, Saïd donated £15 million to help build a new Global Leadership centre for the uni.

What is an Oxford graduate called? ›

Alumni of the University of Oxford are former students who have matriculated. An alumnus (masculine, plural alumni) or alumna (feminine, plural alumnae) is a former student or pupil of a school, college, or university. Commonly, but not always, the word refers to a graduate of the educational institution in question.

What is an Oxford college don? ›

Don. A professor, a lecturer or a Fellow. DPhil. Doctorate of Philosophy. The PhD is known as the DPhil in Oxford.

What is the name of the richest woman in Vietnam? ›

The education of Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Vietnam's richest woman.

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