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In a recent development, plans to rename Linacre College in Oxford after Vietnamese airline mogul Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao have been shelved, as reported today. The college had initially

announced the renaming endeavor in 2021 following a generous pledge of £155 million from the Sovico Group, of which Thao is the chairwoman. Thao, renowned for founding VietJet, a budget airline that gained attention in 2012 for its distinctive use of bikini-clad flight attendants, was set to have the college named in her honor.

However, the proposal sparked a whirlwind of controversy, eliciting concerns from both alumni and politicians alike. Recent reports in The Telegraph suggest that the college is no longer expecting to receive the multi-million-pound donation, attributing this change of course to restrictions on outward donations imposed by the Vietnamese government. These restrictions were reportedly conveyed to alumni earlier this month.

Both Linacre College and the University of Oxford have chosen to remain silent on the matter. In the financial year 2021/22, as detailed in their annual report submitted to the Charity Commission in January 2023, the college had signed a memorandum of understanding on October 31, 2021, outlining plans for the £155 million donation. This significant sum was allocated for various purposes, including £100 million for the acquisition and development of a central Oxford location for the college.

The college stated that plans were actively evolving in collaboration with the donor and would be disclosed when feasible. However, concerns arose when it was revealed that the initial £50 million donation, promised following the signing of the memorandum of understanding with Sovico, had not been received even months after the agreed deadline at the end of June 2022. These discrepancies led to inquiries in the House of Commons, with Members of Parliament highlighting alleged connections between Ms. Thao's company and Vietnam's communist government.

Education Minister Michelle Donelan indicated that she was actively investigating the situation, but the Department for Education later expressed confidence in the college's due diligence procedures. Despite the tumultuous turn of events and concerns among former students about the proposed renaming, Lisa Smårs, Head of Development at Linacre College, expressed her belief in the institution's path, stating on the college's website that she believes it is the right course of action. She further reassured former students that Madam Thao is supportive of the college's values and ethos and has no intention of altering them. Photo by D Wells, Wikimedia commons.