The Times – 11th June 2020
Oxford University has received £80 million from the Reuben brothers, the billionaire property tycoons, to endow its first post-graduate college in 30 years.
Reuben College will open in September next year to 120 postgraduates and will specialise in the study of cellular life, artificial intelligence and environmental change. It will take a multi-disciplinary approach which involves merging expertise from different academic fields to solve some of today’s most intractable problems. It will be based in the heart of the university’s science area in the Radcliffe Science Library building.
The Reuben brothers rose from humble beginnings in north London through the carpet and scrap metal trades to become the second wealthiest men in the UK, with assets of £16 billion according to The Sunday Times Rich List.
The donation is one of the biggest the university has received. As well as endowing the college, the £80 million will establish the Oxford-Reuben Scholarship to help attract the world’s most talented graduate students.
Plans for the college, then referred to as Parks College, were announced last year before the funding was in place. Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford, said she had always been optimistic that a backer could be found. “I was always confident that if we created a new college, we would be able to find somebody willing to invest,” she told The Times. “There hasn’t been a new college in Oxford for decades and the chance to have one’s name on an Oxford college is very attractive. So we created the college the way we wanted it to be, then looked for people who might be willing to support it.”
It will be run by Professor Lionel Tarassenko, formerly head of the engineering science department at Oxford and an expert in the application of machine learning to healthcare. Among the first fellows are several who are working on the coronavirus pandemic. The university is at the forefront of creating a vaccine.
Professor Richardson said that Reuben College would have a more “egalitarian” ethos, with fellows required to give regular seminars and be available for students from every field.
The Reuben brothers have a $100 million charitable foundation which specialises in healthcare and education. It has given sizeable sums this year to Covid-19 causes, including the finding of a vaccine. Born in Mumbai, David, 81, and Simon, 78, attended state schools. Simon left early and went into the carpet business. David started out in scrap metals. They both made fortunes and in recent years turned their attention to prime UK property. They are part of a consortium trying to buy Newcastle United Football Club. Their links to Oxford extend to the airport, which they bought in 2007, in Kidlington, six miles north of the city centre.
In recent years donors to Oxford University have included:
- James Martin, the technology entrepreneur, gave £72.5 million to set up a research school in 2005 and up to £36 million in 2009.
- Leonard Blavatnik, the industrialist, gave £75 million in 2010 to establish a school of government. The university was criticised for accepting it due to his links to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
- Michael Moritz, the investor, gave £75 million in 2012 to fund all living costs of undergraduates.