Universities should “consider the ethical and reputational risks” of accepting funding from controversial donors, the universities minister said on Sunday night after it was revealed that Oxford University took money from the family trust of Sir Oswald Mosley.
Michelle Donelan, the first minister to comment on the controversy, said institutions should consider the risks and “the views of any relevant student and staff communities” but should accept donations from “legitimate charitable organisations”.
Her comments came after Prof Lawrence Goldman, an emeritus fellow in history at St Peter’s College, Oxford, on Sunday called for more regulation of university funding to avoid institutions paying for their projects with “tainted and dirty money”.
A Whitehall source said government regulation of university fundraising was “not on the cards” and that while “there is a responsibility on universities to get this right… it is a decision for them to make”.
Prof Goldsmith said it was inappropriate for institutions to take money from a Mosley family trust when the original fortune was donated by Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists.
Colleges say donations went through ‘robust’ review process
St Peter’s College and Lady Margaret Hall, the two Oxford colleges that accepted a total of more than £6.3 million from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, insisted the donations went through a “robust” review process.
While ministers were shocked by the university’s decision to accept money from the Mosley family, they do not believe it is the Government’s duty to intervene.
But Prof Goldman suggested Oxford and its colleges had shown they could not be trusted to vet their own donations.
“I believe these universities should largely be self-governing, but if they can’t govern themselves effectively, and according to the moral principles that I think most British people would expect of great universities, then there may be a role for the state,” he told Sky News.
“Oxford has lots of money and can continue to get money from other sources. It does all the time, and I don’t really buy the argument that because you can do some good in Oxford you should just continue to hold on to what is essentially tainted and dirty money.”
The row comes after The Telegraph revealed on Friday that Oxford University’s central body had also accepted £6 million from the trust that it intended to use to fund a physics building named after Max Mosley’s son, Alexander. Following the intervention of another donor, plans to use the Mosley family name on the building were scrapped.
‘Wokeness goes out of the window’ when wealthy donors offer money
Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the education select committee, said the donations were “distressing” and suggested that “wokeness goes out the window” at the university when wealthy donors offered their money. “I suspect students will be asking for the money to be returned,” he said.
On Sunday, Prof Goldman said the money should only be accepted by Oxford if Mr Mosley, who died in May, had first apologised for his support for the BUF in the 1950s and 60s.
“What should have happened was that long ago Max Mosley should have apologised for his actions,” he said. “He should have ‘fessed up to what he has done and then he should have used that money very productively to assist those who were, as it were, on the receiving end – victims of that fascist violence. Then, also if you wish to, he could have supported colleges in Oxford in the university.”