Ancient Cambridge college buys top London music venue

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The Independent Culture

Cambridge University's Trinity College, one of the world's oldest seats of learning, would not normally be associated with showbiz glitz and the pounding beats of rock music. But the 500-year-old college, one of the wealthiest academic institutions, has bought The O2, London's top music venue, where Led Zeppelin staged their famous comeback and Michael Jackson planned to do so, too.

"The purchase of the site fits well with the long-term investment strategy of the college," said Rory Landman, senior bursar at the college which lists Isaac Newton among its alumni, along with 32 Nobel Prize laureates.

"The long-term income stream from this and Trinity's other property investments helps secure the future of world-class education and research at Trinity College," he added.

Trinity paid 24 million pounds (27 million euros, 40 million dollars) last month for Meridian Delta Dome Limited (MDDL), the holding company which controls the 999-year lease of The O2, formerly known as the Millennium Dome.

The purchase adds to an already vast property portfolio owned by Trinity, one of the oldest and largest of the 31 colleges in the University of Cambridge, eastern England.

The college is Britain's third largest landowner after only the Crown Estate and the Church of England - its students like to relate that you can travel from Cambridge to London, or the city's ancient rival Oxford, without stepping off Trinity soil.

Trinity, founded in 1546 by king Henry VIII, refuses to divulge figures on its investments and property, which include Felixstowe on the east coast, Britain's largest container port.

But the Cambridge University Reporter, the institution's official journal, suggested that Trinity's property is insured for more than 260 million pounds, while the Education Investor business magazine put its rent yields in 2008 at 40 million pounds.

The O2, which attracts about eight million visitors a year, is the icing on the cake. It brings with it rents from management firm AEG that last year totalled 1.5 million pounds.

"It's definitely a good investment," said Oli McFarlane, 20, the president of the Trinity College Student Union and a third-year Natural Sciences student.

The college's income was evident in the lifestyle of its 1,100 students, he told AFP, adding: "At Trinity, you notice the wealth of the college.

"If you can't pay your bills, they just say, 'No worries, we can wait.' Many other colleges have financial difficulties at the moment, they are pressing their students hard... Trinity has so much cash."

McFarlane noted that a nearby college asked its students to pay for their food and lodging for the year in one payment, rather than in three as they had previously - a 3,000-pound sum that many may find hard to come up with.

Tuition fees at Cambridge and most universities across Britain are set by the government at about 1,100 pounds for each of the three terms. Trinity cannot help out its students here but it does have a generous system of grants.

"The bursary system is incredibly rich. The problem is not to find money but to find students with scholarships," McFarlane said.