Expression of Concern about a Proposed Donation to Linacre from SOVICO Group

Motion formally passed at Oxford UCU General Meeting on 8 February 2022

On October 31 2021, Linacre College signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SOVICO Group for a total donation of £155 million. In return, Linacre College will change its name to Thao College after SOVICO Group’s CEO, subject to approval by the Privy Council and the amending of the University’s Statute V by Congregation.

SOVICO Group has worked alongside Russian oil company Zarubezhneft and other fossil fuel companies to embark on reckless offshore drilling. It is the largest shareholder of HDBank, a bank that recently entered a ten-year partnership with the Vietnam National Petroleum Group. At a time when institutions around the world are cutting their ties to the fossil fuel industry, it is disappointing to see Linacre seeking to accept money from those financing this damaging industry.

The signed MoU between Linacre College and SOVICO states that “The Benefactor (Sovico) and all of its subsidiary companies will develop a net zero carbon strategy [for 2050] by 31 December 2025”. Based on this MoU, it is disappointing that SOVICO is under no obligation to end extractive projects as recommended by a recent IEA report or to engage in any other action to move towards net zero in the next three years.

The donation is not finalised until the signing of a legally binding gift agreement. The
Principal of Linacre, Nick Leimu-Brown, has said that the draft gift agreement “specifies a number of break clauses that will enable the college to withdraw if Sovico do not live up to their commitment…I believe that we have in place robust and transparent checks to make sure that it is not greenwash.” It is imperative that Linacre publish details of this draft gift agreement for scrutiny by the wider community in Oxford, a city where the City Council has declared a climate emergency.

Recent coverage of high-profile donations at the University of Oxford demonstrates that donations are not only a college matter, but also a wider issue for the collegiate University. News sources including The Guardian, BBC, and Financial Times have signalled that Linacre’s decision will be taken as representative of the University. If the planned donation goes ahead, SOVICO Group will be using the reputation of Linacre and Oxford to legitimise profiting from fossil fuels.

This meeting resolves to:

  • Adopt a position that Oxford UCU is opposed to the acceptance of the SOVICO donation by Linacre College.
  • Mandate the Oxford UCU Environment Officer to write to Nick Leimu-Brown (Principal of Linacre) setting out the branch’s concerns about the donation and requesting on behalf of Oxford UCU that details of the draft gift agreement are published.
  • Mandate the Oxford UCU Environment Officer to write to the Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding to set out the branch’s concerns about the donation.

Proposer: Liam Shaw, Environment Officer
Seconder: David Chivall, President