What NUS did next

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The NUS published two new reports this week.  One is a national status report on university investments in the fossil fuel industry (based on Freedom of Information [FoI] requests); the other is a report on student and staff attitudes towards fossil fuels and renewables.

You can access both reports here.

Here are "a few juicy headlines" from the FoI requests:

  • £98.9m of university endowments is definitely invested in extractors of fossil fuels
  • NUS estimates a grand total of £596.8m in endowment investments in fossil fuels (extractors, suppliers and technology and infrastructure)
  • 9.3% of endowment investments are in fossil fuels, compared to just 0.30% tobacco and 0.81% arms;
  • ~4% (£18.7m) of the ~£450m research funding from UK industry and commerce last year came from fossil fuel companies
  • 14% universities have governors linked to fossil fuels industry.

The attitudes survey (N=5000) revealed:

  • Students and staff are less sure about divestment (44% think their university should divest from fossil fuels), but are united on renewables (87% agree that their university should invest in renewable energy);
  • Half of HE student respondents say that they would be more likely to donate to their university, later in their career, if they knew the institution had stopped investing in fossil fuels;
  • Staff pensions – 47% would consider fossil free pension scheme, but none exist;
  • 61% of all respondents say their institution should use 100% renewable energy.

NUS has a plan ...

Over the next 18 months, it will be working with students’ unions to get:

i)  every penny of the £98.8m known endowment investments in fossil fuels divested and reinvested into energy efficiency / clean-tech / renewables;

ii)  as many universities and colleges as possible to agree not to put further investments into fossil fuels;

iii)  as many universities and colleges as possible to commit to 100% renewable energy by a date of their choosing.  This could be bought (~39% of the energy bought by universities is green), or generated (1.2% of the energy used by universities is self-generated).

There's a short film of the launch event at SOAS here.  100 paper windmills were planted to represent the £100m of university endowments invested in fossil fuel extraction companies.  If only it were so simple.

I think it's worth rooting around in the appendices of the FoI-based report to see what endowments UK universities have, and how much of them are invested in energy, arms and tobacco.  There are some eye-watering numbers.  The £1.7m that Trinity College, Cambridge has invested in Big Tobacco stood out for me.  By comparison, Homerton only has £1m.

It's a drop in the ocean for Trinity, of course, as their total endowment is some £884m.  Whilst that sounds a lot, it, too, is small beer compared to Harvard where the endowment is said to be worth some $36bn.  For comparison, the USS pension fund is worth about £41 bn and has significant holdings in defence, tobacco and fossil fuels.  Then there's the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund that's worth about $790bn.

And the UK's SWF?  Ah!  best not mention that.



Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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