Russian dissidents and academics have criticised Oxford University for accepting a £75 million donation from an oligarch to pay for a new school of government designed by Herzog & de Meuron
Russian-born Leonid Blavatnik, who is reputed to be Britain’s richest resident, made the donation in 2010, and it has been used to fund the Blavatnik School of Government, which is due to move into its new permanent home in Oxford later this year.
Previously priced at £30 million, Herzog & de Meuron’s ‘stacked’ semicircular scheme features an open forum, with teaching spaces around it, two horseshoe-shaped lecture theatres and a large flexible teaching space. As well as extensive exterior glazing, there are also glass dividing walls and sky-lit mini-courtyards designed to maximise natural light. The school is located in the university’s Rafael Viñoly-masterplanned Radcliffe Observatory Quarter
But this week the university has been accused of failing to properly vet the ethical business credentials of Blavatnik and fellow oligarchs who are members of a Russian consortium known as Access-Alfa-Renova (AAR).
A letter to the Guardian, signed by 21 academics accused Blavatnik and AAR of involvement with state-sponsored harassment of foreign business in Russia, and called on the university to do more to safeguard its reputation.
The letter makes direct allegations of harassment in relation to oil company BP and said a campaign that forced dozens of British and other western managers out of Russia in 2008-9 had involved fabricated cases made against Oxford graduates.
‘We insist that the university should stop selling its reputation and prestige to [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s associates,’ its signatories wrote.
‘It should carry out a new and independent due-diligence investigation with clearly defined ethical norms. Until then, politicians and other prominent public figures who endorsed the BSG or the joint awards with Alfa should withdraw their suppor
‘We demand a vigorous public debate that involves students, alumni, tutors, non-governmental organisations, political dissidents and industry experts.
‘We believe it is high time for transparency and procedural reforms at Oxford with regard to foreign donations and awards in order to ensure that in the future their acceptance will be beneficial to the university over the longer term.’
A statement from the university defended its vetting processes and insisted that ‘generous philanthropic donations’ helped it to maintain its world-leader status in research.
‘Oxford University has a thorough and robust scrutiny process in place with regard to philanthropic giving,’ it said. ‘The Committee to Review Donations conducts appropriate due diligence based on publicly available information. The university is confident in this process and in its outcomes.’
Herzog & de Meuron said it would not comment on ‘matters of Oxford University’ but added that the function the building had been designed for was fundamentally sound.
In a statement to AJ it said: ‘We understand the purpose of the Blavatnik School of Government as a place where people from all over the world come together to exchange and engage in political and public-service activities to meet with the global challenges of the future.’
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