Reuben brothers fund new Oxford college with £80m donation

11 June 2020, Financial Times

The first Oxford college to be created in 30 years will open to graduates next year following an £80m donation by two of the UK’s richest and most secretive businessmen.

David and Simon Reuben, Indian-born, London-raised brothers who built a fortune partly from metals trading in the “Wild East” of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, will have their name perpetuated at Oxford’s 39th College, subject to confirmation by the university’s governing Congregation body later this month.

Reuben College, which was provisionally named Parks College after its establishment was formally approved in 2019, will be interdisciplinary and focus on applied research in subjects such as environmental change, artificial intelligence and cellular life.

It has already recruited 29 academic staff, or fellows, headed by Lionel Tarassenko, an engineer, and will have an initial intake in the 2021 academic year of 100 graduates, building to several hundred students and at least 50 fellows in the next few years.

It will be located just north of the city centre on the Radcliffe science library site, which is being refurbished.

Louise Richardson, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled. Colleges don’t want to get too big to not disrupt their sense of community. We had a demand for graduate places from students and faculty that couldn’t be met.”

The Reuben family did not study at Oxford but began donating to the university a decade ago via their foundation by giving scholarships for students from lower income backgrounds, and £17m of their new bequest will endow that previous programme.

Oxford’s largest donation in recent history was £150m given last year by Stephen Schwarzman, the co-founder of Blackstone, the world largest private equity firm, to support a new building to bring together the humanities faculties in one place, plus an institute focused on the ethical questions around artificial intelligence. The last college to be created after a bequest was the all-graduate Kellogg College, previously known as Rewley House. It was established in 1990 and renamed two years later after its original benefactor, the US-based W K Kellogg Foundation.

The 2020 Sunday Times rich list named the Reuben brothers as the second richest people in Britain with a fortune of £16bn, just behind James Dyson, and jointly with Sri and Gopi Hinduja. They rank just ahead of Len Blavatnik, who also made much of his money in Russia and has endowed Oxford’s school of government.

The Reubens owned Trans-World, which traded with Russian aluminium factories at a time of fierce battles for control of the plants between local mafia and factory directors that led to a series of murders. David Reuben told the FT in 2000: “There is absolutely no truth to any of the allegations that Trans-World has been involved in any illegal activity in Russia.”

Prof Richardson said the Reubens would have no say in the governance of the college and she was satisfied with a review of how they had generated their fortune. “We have the most robust process of any institution I know. My sense is that we are very comfortable taking their money. I gather there were some allegations, but they have been effectively refuted.”

Lisa Reuben, a trustee of the Reuben Foundation, said in a statement: “We are delighted to further our ties with the university through this endowment, creating the new Reuben College which will become part of Oxford life in perpetuity along with a further enhanced scholarship endowment.”