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Oxford University and colleges used offshore funds to invest in oil extraction

Oxford University’s endowment fund (OUem) and many Oxford colleges have been investing in oil extraction and exploration, the recently leaked Paradise Papers have revealed.

Over half of Oxford’s colleges have placed money in offshore private equity funds, The Guardian reported today. Oxford University deny that the taxpayer has been deprived of any money as a consequence of their investments.

The full list includes All Souls, Brasenose, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, Exeter, Jesus, Lincoln, Magdalen, Merton, Nuffield, Queen’s, Somerville, St Antony’s, St Catherine’s, Trinity, University, Wolfson, and Worcester.

Through this method, large sums of money were deposited in various firms located in tax havens across the world. One of these was Coller International, a Guernsey based private equity firm, which received a £2.6 million investment from the university.

Money received by Coller from the University and its constituent colleges was split into two separate funds, one of which – Coller International Partners V – made significant investments in Shell Oil and several of its subsidiaries and business partners. These latter companies focused on “innovative” new oil extraction and exploration techniques and technologies.

Jesus and Magdalen have each also put over three quarters of a million pounds in Dover Street, a ‘blocker’ corporation known for its investment in controversial retailer BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting customers with learning disabilities. Brasenose reportedly invests in a similar scheme.

OUem – which manages the endowments of 26 colleges and the central university – was revealed by leaked papers to have invested around £30 million in a Cayman Islands based fund, Sycamore Partners.

Several colleges told the Guardian that they had now divested from Coller International, and that as OUem invested their endowment for them they had no direct investments anywhere.

Worcester provost Jonathan Bate said that while the college had invested £1.35 million it was now the case that “since the endowment is held at arm’s length in OUEM, Worcester has no direct investments – onshore, offshore, in cyberspace, or anywhere else”.

In a statement Oxford University told Cherwell: “As charitable trusts, Oxford University’s endowment is exempt from UK tax. The taxpayer therefore does not lose a penny from our investments. The investments generate some £80 million a year which is spent on key academic priorities in Oxford.

“These include the majority of our scholarships and bursaries for students, vital research across medicine, the sciences, social sciences and humanities and our globally outstanding teaching. That is £80m for UK education and research which the taxpayer does not have to fund.”

An earlier version of this article published on 10 November repeated claims made in The Guardian newspaper that Oxford University Endowment Management (OUem) could have avoided UBTI taxes through the use of ‘blocker corporations’. OUem in fact used ‘blockers’ to save costs, rather than to avoid taxes.

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