Last week, hundreds of academics from Oxford and Cambridge called for their institutions to pull their money out of fossil fuels. Along with the incredible student activists, students' union officers and even alumni calling for the same thing, it feels like almost everyone attached to these institutions wants this to happen. The universities will have to act. It's a matter of time.
At NUS, we've just launched our Divest-Invest campaign. We'll be moving £100 million of higher education endowments out of fossil fuels and into renewable alternatives. Over the last few months, we issued 600 freedom of information requests to all universities and colleges, asking about the nature of their investments and the attitudes staff and students have towards fossil fuels and renewables.
We've found that there was overwhelming support for renewables, and a strong desire to be able to invest locally and ethically. And we're going to help students' unions make that happen.
Sadly, we can't tell you exactly what Oxford, Cambridge and their colleges have invested in fossil fuels. Even after the internal review they're boasting about, Cambridge still aren't being transparent with us. But what we do know is that Oxford and Cambridge have endowments of about £10 billion. This is more than the rest of HE endowments combined. They're likely to have hundreds of millions invested in fossil fuels.
That's what's so exciting about Divest-Invest when it comes to sums of money like that. For Oxford and Cambridge, moving their money would be so much more than a gesture. Don't get me wrong, it says a lot when such respected institutions take a moral stand on one of today's most crucial social justice issues, and that's important. But it also frees up hundreds of millions of pounds to invest in the renewable and clean tech alternatives to coal, oil and gas. This makes a massive practical impact as well as a strong political statement.
Education should be for the public good, and that's why we don't want anything to do with fossil fuel companies. We want our universities and colleges to be supporting a sustainable future - from their curriculums, to their estates, to their finances. The pressure is mounting for Oxford and Cambridge to do the right thing and pull their money out of fossil fuels. Then they need to go even further. They can't just settle for being less bad. They have to be proactive in doing more good. They need to finance the clean energy future their students want.